FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- (May 26, 2015) -- The Global Response Force (GRF) of the XVIII Airborne Corps supports unique and often dangerous early entry missions, and because they are first in, they need as much situational awareness as possible.
The Army recently fielded new secure in-flight network communications technology -- Enroute Mission Command Capability (EMC2) -- to provide real-time situational awareness to GRF commanders and paratroopers, giving them a comprehensive understanding of the potential challenges waiting for them on the drop zone.
"Here in the XVIII Airborne Corps we are expeditionary, with a big 'E,'" said Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commander for the XVIII Airborne Corps. "And that is what EMC2 is all about -- enabling our Army to move from home station to a very austere, hostile situation and become immediately effective once we hit the ground."
"It's going to allow commanders and Soldiers to stay informed and know what is going on in the objective they are about to parachute into," Townsend said. "That is an incredible advantage."
By leveraging technologies similar to those used by today's commercial airlines to provide inflight internet access, EMC2 enables the GRF to now connect to the Army's tactical communications network, Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T), while in flight. Because of the increased bandwidth the system provides, GRF commanders can now tap into mission command applications, such as Command Post of the Future, and utilize services such as Secure Voice Over Internet Protocol (SVOIP) phone calls, chat and email. Paratroopers can watch live full motion video feeds from unmanned aerial vehicles flying over the drop zone.
"EMC2 will provide the Army's first responders with leap ahead situational awareness capabilities from what they have today and better support expeditionary operations from home station to the drop zone," said Col. Edward Swanson, Project Manager for WIN-T.
The Army demonstrated EMC2 capabilities onboard a C17 aircraft on May 13 and 14 at Pope Army Air Field, Fort Bragg, N.C. The 50th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, 35th Signal Brigade, which is now supporting the XVIII Airborne Corps' GRF mission, was fielded with the initial operational capabilities of EMC2 and was the operational unit for the demonstration.
"EMC2 gives the commander in the air a view similar to what commanders have in their tactical operations center at their headquarters on the ground," said Col. Robert L. Edmondson II, commander of the 35th Signal Brigade. "Paratroopers are already in a risky business, and commanders can now reduce that risk by having much more situational awareness, the likes of which they are accustomed to in their headquarters."
EMC2 was originally derived from a similar Special Operations Command capability, which the Army continues to cultivate to fill the unique requirements of the GRF.
During the event at Fort Bragg, the Army demonstrated the use of full motion video on large LED screens throughout the aircraft. The screens also have an integrated scrolling marquee and intercom system to provide status updates to the paratroopers from their leadership. These capabilities allow paratroopers to see what they are going to face on the drop zone, how the enemy is arrayed, what weapon systems they have, and the threat they are going to fight from the second their boots hit the ground.
"We're enabling the GRF to see more than a three dimensional picture of the drop zone, they are actually seeing the fourth dimension -- time," said Lt. Col. Joel Babbitt, product manager for WIN-T Increment 1, which manages EMC2. "During their flight on the C17 aircraft they are watching their objective over time, watching the enemy and the disposition of forces and how things change before they parachute in to assault that objective."
EMC2 provides reach-back data capability over secure and coalition networks, allowing commanders to access the common operating picture. It provides access to intelligence products and collaborative planning tools with a full office suite of computers, workstations - all onboard an airplane to a force that had previously been without robust communications or had little bandwidth. Instead of losing the full flight time, which may be as long as 18 hours, the GRF can now leverage that time for more briefings and to obtain more information so they can be better informed to support early entry operations, said 1st Lt. Michael Laquet, 50th ESB platoon leader, who oversees the operation and maintenance of the EMC2 equipment.
"Information is power; by leveraging EMC2, GRF commanders can empower their Soldiers in-flight," Laquet said.
Additionally, paratroopers can communicate with other GRF aircraft through data and voice radios that are part of the system's Key-Leader Enroute Node (KEN).
"With EMC2 a GRF commander can collaborate with the rest of his task force in the air and collaborate with higher headquarters," said Lt. Col. William McDowell, commander for the 50th ESB. "He can receive more information and make better decisions, faster."
The Army's new "flying command post" capabilities increase unit agility by eliminating those first few hours of planning on the ground during the most vulnerable time in an airborne operation. By enabling planning in the air, Soldiers are immediately effective upon landing. EMC2 replaces what one GRF commander referred to as the in-flight "black hole of information" of the past with the situational awareness, mission command and communications capabilities needed to ensure early entry mission success. Whether supporting humanitarian disaster relief efforts or combat operations that suddenly ignite in the complexity of today's world, EMC2 provides the enroute solution in the Army's push to keep Soldiers continually connected through every stage of operation.
"Airborne operations are inherently complex and somewhat chaotic, and through all that chaos we depend on the Soldier to demonstrate personal initiative to go and execute this mission," said Maj Jeffery Burroughs, deputy G3 (operations) for 82nd Airborne Division. "The more knowledge he has once he exists the aircraft the more successful he will be."