FORT IRWIN, Calif. (Sept. 8, 2015) -- The Army successfully deployed its Enroute Mission Command Capability, or EMC2, during Dragon Spear, a Joint Forcible Entry, or JFE, exercise involving a parachute assault by the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, and the Assault Command Post of the XVII Airborne Corps.
What is the JFE's mission? To seize an airfield and establish a lodgment to prepare for the onset of a larger force. EMC2, the Army's "flying command post," provided mission command and secure voice, video and data communications to commanders and Soldiers en route to the drop zone.
"EMC2 provided the airborne assault force [with] the ability to maintain situational awareness and collaborate with their higher headquarters and joint partners [while in flight] all the way to the objective," said Col. Joseph Hilfiker, J-6's communications officer, Joint Task Force -180 & G-6, XVIII Airborne Corps.
By leveraging technologies similar to those used by today's commercial airlines to provide inflight internet access, EMC2 enables the Global Response Force, or GRF, of the XVIII Airborne Corps and 82nd Airborne Division to access the mission command capabilities, such as Command Post of the Future, and secure reliable voice, video and data communications provided by the Army's common tactical communications network, Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or WIN-T, all from a C17 aircraft.
The GRF must rapidly deploy anywhere in the world with little to no notice and they need as much situational awareness as possible. These forces had previously been without robust communications or had little bandwidth to support mission command applications during flights that could last up to 18 hours.
"EMC2 enables mission command for the GRF over strategic distances," Hilfiker said. "It facilitates collaborative planning, up-to-date situational awareness and informed decision making for the GRF while en route to the objective area."
The 50th Signal Battalion (Expeditionary), 35th Signal Brigade (Theater Tactical), which supports the GRF's mission, was fielded with the initial operational capabilities of EMC2 in May and served as the EMC2 operational unit for the JFE exercise. Approximately 1,500 service members supported the JFE exercise, conducted at the National Training Center on Fort Irwin, Calif., in August, over roughly 1,200 square miles of training space inside the Mojave Desert.
The exercise included fighting forces from the XVIII Airborne Corps; 82nd Airborne Division; the 75th Ranger Regiment; 3rd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne); and the Air Force.
Special and conventional forces teamed against a "hybrid threat," which included insurgents, terrorists, criminal elements and conventional near-peer forces. EMC2 provides the situational awareness needed to help defeat these enemy combatants.
EMC2 was nicknamed the "flying command post" because it is just that. The system's suite of network communications capabilities provide GRF commanders with the same mission command and communications capabilities they would use in a command post on the ground, said Lt. Col. Mark Henderson, product manager for WIN-T Increment 1, who manages the Army's EMC2 program.
Because of the increased bandwidth the system provides, GRF commanders can now tap into mission command applications and utilize services such as secure voice over internet protocol, also known as SVOIP, phone calls, chat and email.
"Missions flown by our elite fighting forces cannot afford to miss a beat while on the ground or in the air," Henderson said. "Now they can move to contact well prepared to fight on arrival."
During the JFE event, EMC2 assets successfully provided live, unmanned ariel vehicle, or UAV, footage of the objectives, over large LED screens located throughout the plane, to the paratroopers en route. Text-based messages above the screens gave updates on the weather, enemy, and "time on target."
This information was able to be pushed out to other aircraft that didn't possess EMC2's Fixed Installed Satellite Antenna, further expanding and enhancing the preparedness of the paratroopers throughout the formation, said 1st Lt. Michael Laquet, 50th Signal Battalion (Expeditionary) platoon leader, who oversees the operation and maintenance of the EMC2 equipment.
"The biggest benefit provided by EMC2 is the ability to quickly gather and diffuse knowledge during airborne operations," Laquet said. "Flight time can now become prep time, allowing leaders to empower their Soldiers almost all the way until they exit the door," Laquet said.
EMC2's Key-leader Enroute Node, or KEN, enabled Soldiers to connect with tactical services such as chat and network portals to increase the situational awareness of leaders across the corps, regardless of where they were physically located in the operation. Through line-of-sight links, EMC2 extended this capability to other aircraft in the formation, Laquet said.
"This allowed for knowledgeable collaboration between leaders in the air, which led to the Soldiers being better prepared to accomplish their mission on the ground," Laquet said.
The increased bandwidth of EMC2 compared to legacy systems provides leaders access to more diverse sources of critical information, which they can synthesize into the knowledge that they need to make the best decisions possible, Laquet said.
During the JFE exercise, the GRF used EMC2 to reach back and maintain active communication between higher headquarters, the drop zone, airfield, and the paratroopers. Because of EMC2, the airborne commander was able to communicate with the Air Force commander and stay informed about events such as a plane not taking off or paratroopers that didn't make it out of the plane, said Cpl. Derick Peterson, 50th Signal Battalion (Expeditionary) EMC2 operator.
"EMC2 furthered these missions by keeping the airborne commander continuously in contact with his ground forces as well as the other planes in formation," Peterson said.
Additionally, since airborne commanders can now plan, prepare and brief missions while en route, they can deploy sooner than before by conducting actions once done preflight, in the air, Peterson said. Increasing the expeditionary nature of units is a big push for the Army as it regionally aligns its force to prepare for unexpected multiple contingencies in today's complex world.
"Having that much more time and information [to prepare en route] can make the difference between winning and losing," Laquet said. "During Dragon Spear, the 2/82nd showed that they were ready to win, and we demonstrated the variety of ways we can help achieve that victory."