QUANTICO, Va. — The Marine Corps’ surging interest in unit-level cyber capabilities was on display at the annual Modern Day Marine conference that opened here Tuesday, as dozens of vendors were hawking rugged processors, powerful battery systems and hard-shell cases that could provide advanced digital fires for forward-deployed Marines.
The “CyberPac 8201,” for example, is a 28-lb. shock-resistant server that packs $60,000 of highly reliable processing power into a box the size of a briefcase.
“This is basically their ax when they go out in the field,” said Bruce Imsand, the chief executive officer of MaxVision, the Alabama-based company that makes the CyberPac. “This is for battalion-level incident response teams.”
MaxVision has sold CyberPacs to the Air Force and Army, Imsand said.
The Modern Day Marine conference at Marine Corps Base Quantico is the largest annual gathering of Marines and defense industry professionals who showcase their wares in the hopes of landing big contracts with the Corps.
The gear on display ranged from large amphibious assault vehicles and radar equipment to small sidearms and waterproof boots.
A large swath of the event was focused on providing computer processing power to Marines at the tip of the spear, whether for cyber capabilities or to fuel the increasingly complex intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tools now required for expeditionary operations.
Protecting that gear, however, is a growing concern.
“If this stuff is going to get kicked out of a helicopter, the older cardboard boxes and wooden crates just don’t provide the protection that is required,” said Jeff Gazich, a sales manager for Gemstar, a Minnesota-based company that sells customized hard cases.
Gemstar is more than 50 years old but has only recently begun to focus on the military as a potential customer.
“We’ve been asked to come in here as their standard threshold for protection is rising,” he said.
Gemstar and several other companies want to sell cases to the Marine Corps that include foam protection, cooling systems and customized designs to fit specific types of hardware.
Powering that gear is another acute challenge for the Marine Corps and its expeditionary missions. The average Marine’s kit is already weighed down with heavy battery packs, and the Corps is continuing a search for the perfect battery or mobile power source.
Rechargeable, disposable and solar-powered batteries, as well as other experimental technologies have all . But so far there’s no silver bullet.
“They are all trying to find the right technology that can provide very high energy for a long period of time but it also has to be lightweight,” said Yves Destenaves, a product manager with Acumentrics, a Massachusetts-based company that specializes in battery and power systems.
Acumentrics sells a 9-lb. battery system that is sewn into a standard Marine’s backpack with USB ports and traditional electrical-plug inputs accessible from the pack’s exterior and within reach for the warfighter.
Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller has frequently raised concerns about the Corps’ need to push cyber capabilities, both offensive and defensive, down to the lowest level. He’s concerned that the Corps does not have enough Marines with cyber skills and fears the military’s networks are vulnerable and could be a critical weakness in a future war.
Forward-deployed Marines need to be able to protect their own communications networks and potentially those of their local allies. They need to respond quickly to cyber attacks to identify, attribute and counter them. And they need to be prepared to launch offensive cyber operations to shape the battlefield when needed.
For now, the Marine Corps cannot provide all of those capabilities from a brigade-level headquarters.
“You’ve got to be plugged in and connected to the network to be able to see what’s going on,” Imsand said.
“You can’t do it remotely.”
Andrew Tilghman is the executive editor for Military Times. He is a former Military Times Pentagon reporter and served as a Middle East correspondent for the Stars and Stripes. Before covering the military, he worked as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle in Texas, the Albany Times Union in New York and The Associated Press in Milwaukee.