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Marines Evaluate Biometric Systems In Tactical Environment
by U.S. Marine Corps Matt Gonzales, Systems Command
August 8, 2019

Marine Corps Systems Command sent a group of Marines and civilians to rural Indiana in April 2019 to participate in a weeklong series of tactical exercises to evaluate two intelligence capabilities the Corps is considering as a replacement biometric system.

“The event gave Marines an opportunity to be in the field, evaluate the equipment and provide candid feedback of these systems,” said Sarah Swift, MCSC’s Identity Operations team lead. “They let us know which system is more operationally relevant to them.”

The exercises took place on an urban training complex in Muscatatuck, Indiana, located about 75 miles southeast of Indianapolis. The event offered stakeholders the opportunity to observe Marines employing identity operations equipment in a tactical environment.

Throughout the week, Marines used the capabilities to perform a gambit of operations involving scenarios they could experience on the battlefield. They also incorporated an Expeditionary Forensics Exploitation Capability (EFEC) to test interoperability between systems.

“They conducted the full concept of operations with the identity operations equipment, from biometrics collection and forensics exploitation, to receiving reporting through the Identity Intelligence Analytics Cell,” said Swift.

Testing The Systems

Marines spent equal time evaluating each system during several activities based on fictional scenarios.

The exercises began with Marines from different military occupational specialties setting up an Entry Control Point near a detention facility. Role players acting as dislocated populace would approach the ECP seeking employment. Before offering work, Marines would collect biometric and identity information from each person using the systems.

April 3, 2019 - A Marine employs a biometric system to examine the profile of an exercise participant at an Entry Control Point. A group of Marines and civilians are participating in a series of roleplaying activities to test two intelligence systems the Corps is considering as a replacement biometric system. (U.S. Navy photo by Keystella Mitchell)
April 3, 2019 - A Marine employs a biometric system to examine the profile of an exercise participant at an Entry Control Point. A group of Marines and civilians are participating in a series of roleplaying activities to test two intelligence systems the Corps is considering as a replacement biometric system. (U.S. Navy photo by Keystella Mitchell)

“During these exercises, we had role players and we had scenarios,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jimmy Chon, criminal investigation divisions officer for the 1st Law Enforcement Battalion, I Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group. “The missions forced us to evaluate equipment as we’d use it in a tactical environment.”

In the fictional humanitarian aid disaster relief sequence, enemy forces detonated an explosive device, causing flooding to a housing complex and panic among villagers. Using the biometric capabilities, the tactical site exploitation team employed the EFEC to assess the bomb site to gather more information about the cause of the explosion and the locals.

“We used these intelligence systems for biometric and forensics collection,” said 1st Lt. Timmothy J. Smith, military police platoon commander with 2d Law Enforcement Battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. “We scanned fingerprints and irises, took photographs and swabbed the inner mouth to see if anybody showed up on our watch list, which helped us identify the ‘good’ people from the ‘bad.’”

The knowledge gained from this mission led Marines to conduct a raid on an area occupied by enemy forces. There, Marines used the intelligence capabilities to exploit computers, cell phones and other equipment to collect more information about adversaries.

After completing the raid, the Marines employed the devices to enroll the deceased and collect other evidence.

“We used these systems to the best of our abilities and to the limits of our imaginations to gain intelligence,” said Smith.

Nobody Quit

The Indiana weather was sunny and clear, but days were long and arduous for participants. Many worked from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day, operating on little sleep. However, Chon said he did not hear complaints from Marines or civilian contractors participating in the exercises. Despite experiencing bouts of exhaustion, all participants completed the activities.

“Nobody quit,” said Chon. “Not a single person.”

Marines found the exercises beneficial. Smith expressed appreciation for the event, as his team found creative ways to use the intelligence systems. For Chon, the highlight of the weeklong exercises was witnessing the interaction between all parties involved and realizing how hard engineers work to provide a quality capability to the warfighter.

“It’s a unique position to have junior Marines evaluate a piece of equipment that will be used in the future,” said Chon. “It’s not common for a lance corporal to sit down with engineers and say, ‘I like this’ or ‘I don’t like this.’”

The test and evaluation data and feedback from Marines collected by the program office will help to inform a follow-on procurement. It’s a data point that MCSC will communicate to the Milestone Decision Authority for a final decision.

Swift projects a new intelligence system to be fielded by Marines in the second quarter of fiscal year 2020. She also emphasized the significance of the identity operations exercises and of involving stakeholders in the process.

“This was a really important event for the Marine Corps,” said Swift. “It helped shape how identity operations is utilized in the Corps.”

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