Leadership: Leading With A Laptop


December 10, 2009: The U.S. Marine Corps is buying another 24 COCs (Combat Operations Center), for about $2.3 million each. The marines already have about a hundred COCs in use, and over 250 on order.

The COC comes in three versions (or CapSets, or Capability Sets). CapSet II is for divisions and aviation wings, CapSet III is for regiments while CapSet IV is for battalions and squadrons. Each CapSet contains a different combination of communications, computer and display (flat panel) equipment, as well as software customized to that particular CapSet, as well as generators necessary to power all that gear.

Starting in 2002, the marines took four years to design, build, test and roll out a new battalion headquarters system. It was only a generation ago that a battalion headquarters was a bunch of radios, typewriters, maps and troops, hauled around in a truck and set up in tents. That's all changed. There are still radios, but now the tent is full of laptop computers, a local area network, large flat screen displays, a satellite link, and much else that is new. The tent is also air conditioned. To keep the equipment from overheating, but it does make life easier for the troops. The battalion headquarters is now standardized, to make managing and quickly setting up all this new equipment possible.

The Combat Operations Center (COC) CapSet (Capability Set) is a carefully thought out, and packaged, array of equipment that is packed into three hummers, and their trailers. It takes less than an hour to get a headquarters up and running. The CapSet can also be flown in, as all the gear comes with carrying cases. There are also CapSets, based on the same gear and principles, for regimental and divisional headquarters. The standardization makes it easy for new marines assigned to headquarters to get right to work, without having to learn that his new battalions particular "system" works. It's all the same, no matter where the COC is.

 In 2004, the marines shipped the first COC to marine aviation units in Iraq for testing. The results were excellent, and word got around. Every unit wanted a COC. Most larger headquarters now have them.

 The COC takes advantage of the fact that combat commanders use their laptops as their principle administrative tool. While on the move, the laptop provides maps, data and a growing array of software tools for commanders. Once the COC is set up, the commander has a network of laptops, and satellite access to additional resources worldwide. Since the COC takes a little over an hour to pack up, and less than an hour to set up, a battalion headquarters can be moved frequently, and a lot more easily than in the past. For a battalion moving and attacking, like marine battalions did in 2003 as they advanced towards Baghdad, this kind of flexibility makes they unit more effective.

The equipment for the most common COC (CapSet IV) can be transported in one C-130 (including the hummers that normally carry the gear), or, not including the hummers, two CH-53s or one MV-22.



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