Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory


Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory

Futures Directorate


                On 1 October 1995, as one of his first official acts as Commandant, General Charles C. Krulak established the Warfighting Lab in Quantico Virginia as the conduit for operational reform in the Marine Corps.  The Commandant’s Warfighting Lab was tasked with investigating new and potential technologies and evaluating their impact on how the Corps organized, equipped, educated, and trained to fight in the future.  The Commandant named the 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 the Commandant believed that as soldiers of the sea the Corps should harness and ride the sea dragon of change.

                To conduct live force experimentation the Commandant also established an experimental Special Purpose MAGTF (SPMAGTF(X)) as part of the Warfighting Lab. It was renamed as the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab (MCWL) in 1997 and over the next few years, the MCWL conducted a series of live-force Advanced Warfighting Experiments with the SPMAGTF(X) and operating forces.  These campaigns included Hunter Warrior, Urban Warrior, Capable Warrior, Project Metropolis and Millennium Dragon series of experiments.

                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 and 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.

                Increasing support for combat operations did not slow the pace of experimentation and S&T to develop future capabilities and in 2004 MCWL began a decade long series of experimental campaigns in Distributed Operations and the follow-on 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.  The Futures Directorate is made up of the Futures Assessment Division, Emergent Force Development Division and the three divisions of MCWL - Wargaming, Experiment, and Science and Technology.   The Futures Directorate 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 directorate 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 directorate’s efforts informs the Marine Corps Force Development System and help to define requirements to enhance warfighting capabilities.

              The directorate 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 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.

              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.