By Amy Walker, staff writer for PEO C3TApril 23, 2015
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (April 23, 2015) -- The Army is delivering new technologies to the Global Response Force, or GRF, that will help transform the concept of a command post from a stationary, tented shelter to a mobile enabler for expeditionary mission command - including during operations in flight and early entry into developing situations.
"No matter where we're going in the world, enabling us to maintain situational awareness en route, and even do [it] in-stride changes, is invaluable," Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel B. Allyn said. "And likewise with our early entry forces - the ability to immediately expand their mission command capacity upon initial entry, and eventually build to a network that's mature to fight the follow-on phases, is critical."
The Global Response Force, or GRF, of the XVIII Airborne, or ABN, Corps, supports that unique early entry mission, with the ability to rapidly deploy a brigade combat team on a very short timeline to any hotspot as called upon by the president. Because they are first in, they need as much situational awareness as possible.
Due to the high-profile nature of the GRF mission, the Army has validated a number of operational needs statements, or ONS, for the unit's communication requirements. These ONS led to two groundbreaking capabilities - an en route mission command capability and small tactical network satellite terminals that support early entry operations.
These technologies enable Soldiers to connect to the Army's tactical communications network backbone, Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or WIN-T, before the heavier WIN-T satellite terminals and networked combat vehicles can be flown in to support larger scale operations.
Before the paratroopers even get near the drop zone, the new Enroute Mission Command Capability, or EMC2, enables commanders of GRF units to plan missions and maintain situational awareness in the air. Now, as the situation develops in the destination target area, commanders will receive updates, understand changes on the ground and adjust their plans to accommodate for those changes, all while in flight.
This can eliminate hours of on-the-ground planning at the drop site so Soldiers are more effective immediately upon landing. Not only does EMC2 enable the airborne task force commander to better understand the situation, but it increases awareness for all of those service men and women aboard the aircraft.
"The amount of bandwidth we can provide on the aircraft is roughly equal to what a brigade command post would use in the field, so commanders can use mission command applications and communication capabilities just like they would do on the ground in the command post," said Lt. Col. Joel Babbitt, product manager for Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or PdM WIN-T, Increment 1.
EMC2 provides a broadband connection that allows commanders to tap into command and control applications like the common operating picture, secure video teleconferencing, Secure Voice Over Internet Protocol calls, and full motion video using intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR, feeds from unmanned aerial vehicles, which can be displayed throughout the aircraft on LED screens.
Commanders and their paratroopers can see the target drop area, gain an understanding of the battlefield before arriving, and see enemy positions and disposition in the target area.
"The GRF are not just seeing a three dimensional picture of where they are going, they are actually seeing the fourth dimension - time," Babbitt said. "They are watching their objective over time, watching the enemy and the disposition of forces and how things change just before they jump in to assault that objective."
EMC2 provides access to intelligence products and collaborative planning along with a full office suite of computers, workstations, and chat - all onboard an airplane to a force that had previously been without robust en route communications or had exceptionally little bandwidth. In essence, the aircraft becomes a high capacity command post with commanders and Soldiers receiving the same level of information as they would on the ground, said Cpt. Mindy Brown, WIN-T Increment 1 project lead for EMC2.
The EMC2 initial operational capability will be fielded in May, with the full operational capability fielding expected in 2017.
Following the flight, during initial entry to a hostile airfield, paratroopers are only equipped with what they can strap to their backs or airdrop from the plane - relying on the Army's latest tactical radios and for more robust connectivity, handheld and small satellite communication devices for communication. They need to secure the airfield and set the stage for follow-on forces, who will bring larger infrastructure.
"Providing robust, reliable network communications during those very early stages improves the security and foundation of follow-on operations," said Lt. Col. Leonard Newman, product manager for satellite communications.
In response to an ONS, PM WIN-T fielded the 82nd Airborne Division several very small "jumpable" satellite dishes. As with EMC2, new technology that reduces size, weight and power requirements enabled those dishes to provide early entry units roughly the equivalent amount of bandwidth as an established brigade command post would use in the field.
Just as EMC2 transforms the aircraft into an in-flight command post, these small satellite capabilities transform the drop zone into a "tent-less" command post. The Army is looking at commercial technology to field for these early entry operations, along with slightly larger dishes that would support follow-on operations at the edge of the battlefield.
EMC2 and early entry satellite communications, or SATCOM, provides robust anytime situational awareness and increases the expeditionary nature of Army forces. If the Army can communicate anytime, anywhere and shed that traditional command post infrastructure when needed, it can rapidly and successfully conduct a wider range of missions throughout the world.
"Just like people get uncomfortable when their cell phone dies for a day or even an hour, so do Soldiers and their commanders," Babbitt said. "Constant connectivity is key to situational awareness and the ability to flexibility and dynamically change the plan. Winning in a complex world means getting all the information you can to make good decisions in a constantly evolving and changing environment."