Sharing information among agencies is a good way to make sure that, in the operational environment, everybody is on the same page. This is why the Marine Corps is stepping out with its portion of the Distributed Common Ground/Surface System to link intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems to analysts in the Corps and the other military services.
The system relies on common software architecture and a set of data standards so analysts can share information and use intelligence data no matter who owns it. The process has been building for more than half a decade in the Marine Corps with distribution to operating forces perhaps only a year away.
"We have pursued an incremental approach to acquisition of our DCGS program," said Terry Ritchie, team lead for DCGS-MC at Marine Corps Systems Command. "We're integrating existing programs of record into DCGS-MC so we can leverage investments made by other services."
MCSC is the lead agency for DCGS-MC development as the Department of the Navy's systems command for Marine Corps ground weapon and information technology systems. It is also the Marine Corps commandant's agent for acquisition and sustainment of warfighting systems and equipment.
The Air Force, Army and Navy are further along in their respective DCGS programs, according to Ritchie, while the Marine Corps has opted to take a more measured approach in development, capitalizing on lessons learned from the other services. The result is an expected quick leap from development to full operational capability.
"The DCGS requirement evolved over time in the last decade," said Capt. David Ryan, a Marine intelligence officer and the DCGS-MC project officer at MCSC. "The Marine Corps program entered the engineering and manufacturing development phase in the fall of 2011, and we expect to achieve full operational capability in the fall of 2014."
The evolutionary nature of DCGS in the Marine Corps can be seen on its reliance on proven systems. DCGS-MC includes previously fielded systems and rapid technology insertion prototype systems. These are already in the hands of the operating forces. They await the DCGS-MC primary server system that still needs operational tests before fielding.
Ritchie explained that the DCGS-MC information technology system is comprised primarily of commercial-off-the-shelf, government- off-the-shelf and non-developmental item hardware and software components. Their server and client systems integrate previously fielded geospatial intelligence components.
"These legacy components are already used by Marine Corps imagery and geospatial analysts," he said. "While these Marines are the primary intended users of the first increment of DCGS-MC, the initial system will also provide access to geospatial intelligence and other intelligence information. This will flow to users outside the Marine Corps GEOINT community within the Corps and to the other services."
Ryan emphasized that the Marine Corps already had a way to send maps and imagery to people who asked for them, but DCGS-MC amps up that system.
"It lets us share those maps and images in a constant back-and-forth flow with our counterparts," he said. "Our objective is intelligence collaboration and information exposure for the benefit of all our operating forces, and also those in the joint world."
As the program closes in on full operational capability, DCGS-MC is pursuing other efforts in software development and integration.
"Our goal is to produce server-hosted applications that can be transitioned to the developmental DCGS-MC server platform as soon as it achieves initial operational capability," Ritchie said. "These components expand the focus of DCGS-MC beyond GEOINT, incorporating other intelligence disciplines and functions within the intelligence cycle. It's a gradual approach with a great payoff for Marines and all warfighters."