Army fields of enhanced Enroute Mission Command to Global Response Force

A U.S. Air Force C-17 aircraft is being integrated with the Army's Enroute Mission Command Fixed Installed Satellite Antenna at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, on May 12, 2017. The mission capable C-17 FISA-equipped aircraft can now provide the Global Response Force with in-flight mission command, plane-to-plane and plane-to-ground network communications and situational awareness onboard the aircraft. | U.S. Army photo by Amy Walker, PEO C3T

The Army completed fielding of major Ku-band capability enhancements to its inflight mission command system known as Enroute Mission Command, or EMC, in just twelve months, increasing force readiness to rapidly respond to simultaneous early entry missions worldwide.

Within 18 hours of notification, the Global Response Force, or GRF, of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and XVIII Airborne Corps, is required to strategically deploy, conduct forcible entry parachute assault and secure key objectives for follow-on military operations in support of U.S. national interests. Leveraging the Army’s robust tactical network, EMC provides these elite paratroopers with the critical in-flight mission command and the plane-to-plane/plane-to-ground network communications and situational awareness they need to be successful in joint forcible entry operations. EMC enables GRF commanders enroute to an objective to follow the battle in real-time and alter plans as needed in response to the evolving fight on the ground, retaining an operational edge during the hours in the air.

In support of Global Response Force missions, this U.S. Air Force C-17 aircraft is being integrated with the Army’s Enroute Mission Command Fixed Installed Satellite Antenna at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, on May 12, 2017. Once the FISA is integrated onto the C-17 aircraft, Soldiers merely roll on the other EMC equipment, and roll it off at the end of the mission. | U.S. Army photo by Amy Walker, PEO C3T

“The whole focus of EMC is to paint a real-time operational picture for that battlefield commander and his subordinate commanders,” said 2nd Lt. Zachary Jacobson, EMC officer in charge for the 50th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, which operates EMC during GRF missions. “Everyone on that aircraft is benefiting from this capability. They get the latest information on the situation on the ground, so by the time they jump, they have a pretty good expectation [of what lies ahead].”

EMC’s Ku-band Fixed Installed Satellite Antennas, or FISAs were integrated onto Air Force C-17 aircraft and provide connectivity to the Army’s tactical network, enabling inflight access to secure and reliable voice, video and data communications. (Ku-band is a frequency that leverages commercial satellites, while Ka-band leverages military satellites). To support EMC’s full Ku-band operational capability, the EMC team integrated the first of the new antennas onto a C-17 aircraft in May 2017. The team rapidly integrated the fleet of select C-17s at three sites simultaneously, ensuring the effort was completed by September 2017, the end of the Army’s fiscal year. The Army plans to enhance these systems even more by 2020.

“As the Army faces potential peer adversaries in an increasingly volatile world, providing GRF commanders and paratroopers with expeditionary command post capabilities while in flight provides continuity of mission command and operational flexibly,” said Lt. Col. Mark Henderson, product manager for Network Modernization, assigned to Project Manager Tactical Network, which manages EMC for the Army.

The Army executed innovative acquisition approaches to deliver EMC capability to speed traditional acquisition timelines. The program office successfully delivered the full EMC Ku-band capability under a section of the Defense Acquisition System that allows the Army to fulfill quick-reaction capabilities, such as EMC, in an expedited fashion.

“What makes this effort equally striking was the sheer speed in which this program was executed,” Henderson said. “The team was able to answer the Army’s call to fill a critical operational need and get it into the hands of the Soldiers as quickly as possible. We got it through a complex acquisition process by custom tailoring that process to ensure it enabled the program to rapidly move through development to delivery.”

The recent EMC integration effort significantly increased the number of planes outfitted with the FISAs, enabling the GRF to support multiple missions. Now that the antennas are integrated onto the aircraft, Soldiers roll on the rest of the EMC equipment when needed, and roll it off at the end of the mission, freeing the aircraft for other operations.

“Now that more C-17 aircraft are integrated with this capability, EMC can support multiple operations and have a global impact in multiple locations at the same time,” Jacobson said. “If we don’t have the upper hand [in the battle], we are not doing our job right.”

The EMC capabilities also increase the reliability of unit communications between aircraft. Soldiers operating EMC can extend the same enroute communications, enhanced situational awareness and planning capabilities to other planes that are flying to the mission, enabling all forces remain synchronized.

Because of the bandwidth EMC provides, GRF commanders can tap into mission command applications such as Command Post of the Future, which provides a common operational picture and collaboration capabilities, and Joint Automated Deep Operations Coordination System, a unified targeting solution that coordinates joint and coalition fires.

In addition to the individual workstations found in the initial EMC capability, the new EMC capabilities include a large roll-on/roll-off Command and Staff Palletized Airborne Node, a workstation designed for mission command collaboration.

The EMC tool suite also includes large LED screens that can be mounted throughout the aircraft, so paratroopers can see real-time unmanned aerial vehicle feeds or receive visual updates from the commander before they jump. Commanders can conduct video teleconferences or voice calls with other commanders, paratroopers can use chat or pull up emails or whatever they need from the web, “all with access from the aircraft, just like they would have on the ground,” said Sgt. Debin Agiliano, EMC noncommissioned officer in charge for the 50th Expeditionary Signal Battalion.

During joint forcible entry operations, EMC provides unity of command by enabling interagency communications between multiple defense elements, including the Army, Air Force, Special Operations Command and joint operations commands that coordinate during missions.

To better support EMC traffic, the Army recently completed upgrades to its worldwide Regional Hub Nodes, or RHNs, enabling EMC to be fully integrated and leverage the Army’s tactical network to globally relay data. The RHNs are the largest satellite and network transport nodes in the Army’s tactical communications network, enabling the seamless exchange of information anywhere in the world.

“Free flowing communication is better for everyone; it lets commanders know what they are getting into, so they can alleviate battle causalities,” said Spc. Brian Rieck, EMC Key Leader Enroute Node operator for the 50th Expeditionary Signal Battalion. “The more information the commander gets, the better prepared he can be for what is going to happen. EMC is definitely going to give us an edge.”

By Amy Walker, PEO Command, Control, Communications-Tactical