Cellphones have become ubiquitous in the modern U.S. military. It is how word is passed and how Marines pass time after hurrying up to wait.
But against a sophisticated enemy, the signals given off by cellphones could give away a unit’s position and cause them to be targeted by long-range weapons.
When 3,500 paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division deployed to the Middle East in early 2020 as tensions rose between Iran and the U.S., the soldiers were barred from bringing their cellphones.
The Marine Corps likely would copy in future deployments, Lt. Gen. Brain Beaudreault, commander of II Marine Expeditionary Force, told reporters Friday.
“I will put out a MEF order on an actual deployment that provides absolute control,” the commander said while discussing the MEF level exercise his unit just completed.
“Commanders have the authority to develop policies that address the use of portable electronic devices (PED), which includes personal PEDs that could adversely affect mission execution,” Capt. Joseph Butterfield, a spokesman for Headquarters Marine Corps, told Marine Corps Times Wednesday.
The exercise simulated an attack from a “near-peer” adversary against an ally in Northern Europe, Beaudreault said.
A large part of the exercise was avoiding detection by the enemy by using distributed operations and hiding the electronic signals a large modern force is bound to be emitting.
During the exercise cellphones were banned within the operating space as the MEF attempted to avoid detection by the near-peer, Beaudreault said.
“We can absolutely crack down,” the commander said.
“It’s harder to do than say, but it requires discipline and it requires education and understanding that this is no joke when we’re facing a peer adversary who’s looking for those exact signals,” Beaudreault added.
In 2018 the military banned Fitbits and other fitness tracking apps from deployed service members who were deploying after a fitness app revealed the details of life on base for deployed service members.
Eventually then Defense Secretary Jim Mattis opted to allow cellphones in the Pentagon.