By Lieutenant General Edward Hanlon, Jr., USMC (ret.)

Congress is considering whether to allow automatic cuts in military spending . So now more than ever, the armed forces should do all it can to eliminate waste and root out inefficiency.

When it comes to the U.S. Marine Corps, there’s something it can do right now to streamline operations in order to remain the efficient, high-value force it has always been. It’s time for a dramatic overhaul of the way information is gathered and shared in coordinating air and ground operations.

For far too long, the Marine Corps has had to make use of a messy hodgepodge of systems and equipment for command-and-control, or C2. These disparate systems have made a daunting task even more challenging.

Decision makers controlling airspace, for instance, work with one set of hardware and software. Those making operational decisions at the highest levels use something different. As a result, it’s very difficult to share necessary information in real time .

What’s more, each system requires its own training to use, displays information in a unique way, and needs its own maintenance. This is no way for a cutting-edge fighting force to operate.

The reason for this is no mystery. As different systems were developed at different times, each was jury-rigged to work with the other.

Imagine a ’57 Chevy body, with the engine of a ’98 Ford Explorer, a bumper from an old Dodge Dart and the passenger door of a 2011 Lincoln. It will get you where you’re going but it’s a jalopy. At some point, it’s time for a new car designed to work as a unified whole.

That’s what the Marine Corps needs: An integrated C2 system that offers commanders a complete picture of any war-fighting situation.  Commanders working at the operational level will have full and immediate understanding of what’s going on at the tactical level, and unit commanders will have a full picture of the battlespace in which they’re operating.

Such a system is at the ready today. It’s called the Common Aviation Command and Control System (CAC2S).

The CAC2S will include standardized hardware and software that enables integration of data from across different C2 systems. Using tools provided by recent IT advances, real-time pictures of the battlespace can be shared seamlessly.

CAC2S will not need cutting-edge technology, it simply requires proven capabilities that can be spun off existing programs of record. Plus, it’s integrated on an open architecture framework and presented to operators on a common picture, which reduces the risk of program failure, standardizes operations centers, and reduces training times and supply lines.

This overhaul wouldn’t just cut down on errors, but also save money by enabling Marines to complete their missions more efficiently.

Our Marine commanders face enough challenges coordinating air and ground operations. When making life-and-death operational decisions, their systems must be reliable and efficient.

Lieutenant General Ed Hanlon is a retired U.S. Marine Corps general officer. Since retiring in 2007, Ed has served as the Regional Executive for Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Israel for Raytheon International, Inc.

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