With possibility of more troops, Marines add an electronic warfare force

The Marine Corps is making an effort to grow its electronic warfare personnel and training as the force continues its pivot to hedge 21st century threats.

The service is creating a Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) information group that will work on electronic warfare, intelligence capacity and cyber, Marine Corps Deputy Commandant for Programs and Resources Lt. Gen. Gary Thomas told the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee March 10.

MEFs are large task force units composed of headquarters, ground, air and logistics components.

“Our perspective is now broadening in terms of additional capabilities that we would need when you are going force on force and being able to counter some of the electronic warfare capabilities our enemies are developing,” Thomas said.

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Thomas added that the Marines have a plan as to where they want to grow electronic warfare capabilities within aviation, but ground electronic warfare is still a growing area.

“We are also seeing the nexus of cyber and [electronic warfare] and it’s about providing the equipment that allows you to that that, but also now the organization that gives you that capability as well,” Thomas said.

The service got authorization from Congress to grow its active duty force by 3,000 to 185,000 active duty Marines. The MEF would be part of that growth.

The Marine Corps still does not have the funds to increase the force since the 2017 defense appropriations bill is sitting in Congress. The House passed the nearly $619 billion bill on March 8, but it still has to make its way through the Senate and get the President’s signature.

When the Marines were in more dire straits, they considered making reductions in the force purely to grow cyber and electronic warfare.

“An infantry battalion may look a little bit smaller in some ways, but you may add more cyber, information warfare capabilities, so that’s definitely an area that we are looking at,” Deputy Commandant Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh said in 2015.

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Now with the possible growth in forces and potentially more money on the way from President Trump and the all-Republican Congress, the service might be able to grow its information warfare capabilities without compromising the size of its battalions.

The Marines prioritized cyber and electronic warfare in 2015 with the creation of an assistant deputy commandant for information warfare. The position pulls together the Marine director of intelligence, director of command, control, communications, computers and intelligence and the chief of the Marine Corps Forces Cyber Command.

“Instead of three individual stovepipes kind of doing their own thing [this] pulls together everything from a capabilities development standpoint,” Walsh said. “It all comes back to that combat development integration, a lot of people doing good things, but how do you integrate it together.”