Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory


Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory

Futures Directorate

Quantico, VA
                      On the day that he assumed the office as the 31st Commandant of the Marine Corps (CMC), General Charles C. Krulak published his Commandant’s Planning Guidance (CPG) as a keystone document to provide a road map for the future.  One of the Commandant’s key objectives was to “encourage - to demand - creativity and innovation in the Corps.”[1]   CMC later named this campaign of innovation “Sea Dragon” after a Chinese proverb equating change with a dragon – a beast too dangerous to ignore but too powerful to control.   To survive and prosper the Chinese believed that one must ride the dragon and CMC believed that as soldiers of the sea the Corps must harness and ride the sea dragon of change.[2]  For the CMC, “Sea Dragon was not one particular innovation or idea, but rather a commitment to innovation.” [3]  As a catalyst for this effort, his CPG directed the establishment of a Warfighting Lab “as the crucible for operational and technological innovation for the Marine Corps.”[4]   Tasked as the innovation “cradle and test bed,” the Commandant’s Warfighting Lab (CWL) would be responsible for the “development, field testing, and implementation of future operational and functional concepts, potential doctrinal, organizational, training, educational, and support solutions” and the integration of new technologies.[5]  The CWL became operational on 1 October 1995 and even before it was formally dedicated in December 1995 the small team of innovators that formed the CWL was already planning several major events.  On 4 and 5 December 1995, the CWL conducted the first of what would eventually number into the hundreds of wargames, with senior Marine leadership participating in a Traders’ Game on the floor of the New York Mercantile Exchange.[6]  In the fall of 1996, an experimental Special Purpose MAGTF (SPMAGTF(X)) was added to the CWL and in March of the following year, the CWL conducted the first live force experiment in the desert of 29 Palms California as part of the “HUNTER WARRIOR” campaign.  The HUNTER WARRIOR series of experiments was designed to assess concepts centered on dispersed small units operating under a centralized and digital C2 structure.  Later that year, the CWL was renamed as the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab (MCWL).[7]   

The HUNTER WARRIOR campaign gave way to URBAN WARRIOR, a campaign of experiments designed to increase the lethality, survivability and effectiveness of small units up to Battalion Task Force in complex urban settings across the range of military operations.  The URBAN WARRIOR series of experiments resulted in the fielding of many emerging technologies such as the Rifleman’s Combat Optic (RCO),the Personal Role Radio, biometric devices, multiple ISR capabilities (Dragoneye, Wasp and Raven) and the Designated Marksman Rifle.

                The organization of MCWL has continually evolved with its mission and functions.   The Commanding Officer became a Commanding General and the Vice Chief of Naval Research at the Office of Naval Research as well as the Marine Corps’ Executive Agent for Science and Technology (S&T).  After September 11, 2001, MCWL increased support for engaged Marine forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.  New technologies, new Tactics, Techniques and Procedures and new concepts were developed, tested, and fielded to meet emerging needs.  Support to the Counter Improvised Explosive Device effort was increased and MCWL added a division for this critical function.

             As the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan matured, MCWL was called upon to employ their well developed urban training capabilities to conceive and create MATILDA VILLAGE, providing a mission rehearsal venue for 21 Infantry Battalion Task Forces, as well as allied and partnered forces. Each battalion experienced a rigorous, live force on force event with a full complement of combined arms to include armor and aviation in direct support, with a complex adversary and neutral role player force employing real time lessons from theater. MATILDA VILLAGE was transitioned to TECOM resulting in the current urban ITX events at MCAGCC 29 Palms.

             Increasing support for combat operations did not slow the pace of experimentation and S&T to develop future capabilities and in 2004, MCWL began in earnest the DISTRIBUTED OPERATIONS (DO)experiment, which was the result of concept based study of all previous experiments and became the first “cradle to grave” experiment.  During DO, MCWL received, trained and experimented with a cohesive unit, and then deployed the unit to combat to record results and modify concepts against an adaptive enemy.  The DO experiment resulted in such concepts as the Company Level Intelligence Cell (CLIC), the Company Level Operations Cell (CLOC), the COMBAT HUNTER program, and the “DO Suite” which provided a significant upgrade to Infantry Battalion’s communications and lethality capabilities. Follow-on’s to the decade long series of experimental campaigns in Distributed Operations include Enhanced Company Operations and Enhanced Marine Air Ground Task Force Operations. 

                In 2013 MCWL became a part of the newly formed Futures Directorate under the Deputy Commandant for Combat Development and Integration.  MCWL/FD is made up of five Divisions, Futures Assessment, Concepts and Plans, Wargaming, Science and Technology, and Experiment.   MCWL/FD conducts “horizon scanning” to detect early indications of significant futures change and develops new concepts of operation and employment for naval and Marine Corps’ capabilities.  The Lab crafts wargames and experiments that examine various aspects of military issues by integrating potential warfighting concepts and concepts of operations with existing doctrine.  It also harnesses the latest technology emerging from the S&T community to provide potential technology solutions to fill emerging or forecast future needs.  The output of the command’s efforts informs the Marine Corps Force Development System and help to define requirements to enhance warfighting capabilities.

              The Lab is now keenly focused on Expeditionary Force 21, the Marine Corps’ current concept of how Marines will operate in the future.  Expeditionary Force 21 serves as a guide for experimentation, force development activities, and programming decisions.

              In this, its twentieth year, even though the organization has changed, the heart of its mission is as clear as ever – shape tomorrow’s Marine Corps.  Over the next year the Lab’s Marines, sailors, and civilians will look to future operating environments for ways to shape the force.  They will explore new operating concepts, the application and employment of manned and unmanned systems, innovative expeditionary medical concepts, and continue to collaborate with industry and sister services.  MCWL/FD continues to develop and experiment with innovative and creative concepts and technologies to prepare the Marine Corps for challenges forseen in the future security environment.  Beginning with forecasting and futures analysis, to concept development, Science and Technology integration, wargaming and ultimately live force experimentation and assessment, the vision for the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab remains as relevant and valid today as it was twenty years ago.

              The legacy of Sea Dragon lives on in the original command logo while the Futures Directorate logo shows that we will forever be mindful of the future as Marines stand ready for the challenge of tomorrow.

[1] Krulak, Charles C. Marine Corps Gazette; Aug 1995; 79, 8; pg.A1

[2] Krulak, Charles C. Marine Corps Gazette; Jan 1996; 80, 1; pg 18

[3] Krulak, Charles C. Marine Corps Gazette, Dec 1996; 80, 12; pg. 12

[4] Krulak, Charles C. Marine Corps Gazette; Aug 1995; 79, 8; pg.A1

[5] ibid

[6] Yearly Chronologies of the United States Marine Corps – 1995. United States Marine Corps History Division. Web. 1 Dec. 2015. < https://www.mcu.usmc.mil/historydivision >  

[7] Anon, Marine Corps Gazette; Sep 1996; 80, 9; pg 12 and West Jr, F.J. “War in the Pits: Marine-Futures Traders Wargame” National Defense University Strategic Forum. Number 61, February 1996. Web 1 Dec. 2015. https://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/ndu/forum61.htm