Nimble, lightweight command posts guide tactical operations at PC22

By Maureena Thompson, Army Futures CommandOctober 28, 2022

Service members conduct warfare operations at the Technical Operations Center — Light.
Military service members assigned to the 7th Air Support Operations Squadron, Fort Bliss, Texas, and 729th Air Control Squadron, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, conduct warfare operations at the Technical Operation Center — Light (TOC-L) on Oct. 14, 2022, during Project Convergence 22 experimentation at March Air Reserve Base, California. PC22, a multi-month event, enables the Department of Defense and its multinational partners to assess future warfighting concepts and capabilities. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Spc. Brenda Salgado) VIEW ORIGINAL

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — At Project Convergence 22, a large-scale, all-service experiment focused on evaluating innovative warfighting capabilities, lightweight command posts are illustrating how the U.S. military will enable nimble tactical operations on future battlefields.

Staffed by Airmen and Soldiers, the command post prototypes, referred to in the exercise as Tactical Operations Centers — Light, are significantly smaller and more agile than previously fielded versions.

The U.S. Air Force provided the equipment that forms the centers — high-powered, ultra-secure servers and commercially compatible computing systems — following three years of iterative research and development with industry partners.

The effort originated from a desire to transform legacy Control and Reporting Centers (CRCs), which have for years served as the Air Force’s mobile command and control (C2) and communications radar centers in theater, while advancing distributed tactical C2 objectives.

While reliable and effective, CRCs are also heavy and large, making rapid relocation difficult.

“We’re just too big and clunky,” said Douglas Lomheim, deputy chief of Ground Battle Management Systems at the U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command.

The Air Force’s exploration of viable miniaturized alternatives has yielded multiple potential options for command centers with smaller footprints. The Air Force is using Project Convergence 22 to inform new concepts of operation and system requirements for follow-on enduring capabilities.

A smaller, less detectable C2 center is inherently a more survivable one, Lomheim explained, with the ability to establish a more dispersed setup, further improving operator safety.

Tactical Operations Center – Light prototypes leverage new technologies and open architecture framework to support increased data storage and an expanded range of data and communications assets, allowing for easier connection and integration with sister services and multinational partners.

“Anything that’s developed for JADC2 can easily be loaded on here,” Lomheim said, referring to the U.S. Department of Defense’s development of Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2).

The systems’ diverse set of modules, which address various needs for C2, datalink, radio, radar and multi-mission operations capabilities, and ability to track air, land, maritime, space and cyber resources, make them well-equipped for deployment to a challenging, multi-domain environment – the precise type of environment that Project Convergence 22 is replicating.

As part of the experiment, the Tactical Operations Centers – Light are tracking simulated threats as well as real aircraft movements, conducting activities ranging from coordinating with Tactical Air Control Party members in the field to monitoring possible defense maneuvers by the Army’s Patriot Missile System and the Navy’s Aegis Weapon System.

“It’s a brand-new perspective,” said Air National Guard member Master Sgt. David Joseph, Weapons Director with the 255th Air Control Squadron based in Gulfport, Mississippi.

“We’re kind of in that crawl, walk phase of it, mostly trying to just get a sense of how we’re all going to connect and how we’re actually going to integrate into the systems that we’re all using,” Joseph said, noting that the shift from having roughly 100 personnel manning a CRC to only a handful operating the new command post models has been interesting to see.

The dynamism of the TOC – Light approach is also intriguing. “We’re essentially safeguarding both Air Force and Naval assets and airspace management,” said Staff Sgt. Caleb Kennedy of the Air Force’s 20th Air Support Operations Squadron at Fort Drum, New York.

Through the ongoing Project Convergence 22 experiment, Joseph, Kennedy and fellow Airmen have worked alongside Army Air Defense Artillery Fire Control Officers and other specialists to amplify situational understanding and practice pairing sensors with the most appropriate shooters, harnessing the potential to deliver improved battlespace awareness, decision advantage and information dominance.

“We’re learning a lot of additional roles, we’re seeing those roles and responsibilities meld together, and actually it’s really enhancing our team efficiency,” Kennedy said, adding that the experience is helping to build participants’ subject matter expertise on air power and execution.

“We’re showing that we’re able to connect in with any system that is provided from our other, sister services,” Kennedy said of the Air Force’s participation in Project Convergence 22. “Having us here is giving just one more way to expedite battlefield effects and ultimately safe airspace management.”

“The further we go into the future, we’re going to be fighting a war a whole different way than we’re fighting it today,” Joseph said.

“I feel like this exercise here is going to be the baseline for how we go about fighting that war.”