FORT BRAGG, N.C. — During a recent Joint Forcible Entry (JFE) training mission, the Army’s Global Response Force (GRF) successfully used En-route Mission Command (EMC) to enable real-time joint intelligence, communications and collaboration capabilities as they flew cross country to battle simulated enemy forces.
EMC delivers critical in-flight mission command, plane-to-plane and plane-to-ground network communications and situational awareness onboard the aircraft, so commanders can continue planning en-route and their paratroopers are well prepared to jump into potentially hostile territory.
“EMC provides commanders with an enhanced degree of flexibility to be able to plan, adjust and communicate with all the departments that interoperate [in a JFE mission],” said Lt. Col. Lee Adams, commander for the 50th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, 35th Signal Brigade, XVIII Airborne Corps, which supports the GRF with EMC.
With EMC, “they can plan and have an enhanced situational awareness all the way up to the objective, so they can have the right level of combat power at the right place at the right time,” Adams explained.
The GRF of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and XVIII Airborne Corps is required to rapidly respond to any threat worldwide with little or no notice. EMC leverages technologies similar to those used by today’s commercial airlines to provide in-flight network access, enabling the GRF to access secure and reliable voice, video and data communications provided by the Army’s Tactical Network while onboard an Air Force C17 aircraft.
EMC also enables mission command capabilities, such as Command Post of the Future, which provides a common operational picture and collaboration capabilities. Another capability is the Joint Automated Deep Operations Coordination System, a unified targeting solution that coordinates joint and coalition fires.
The 50th Expeditionary Signal Battalion Soldiers operating EMC can also extend the same en-route communications, enhanced situational awareness and planning capabilities to other aircraft that are flying out to the mission, so that all forces are synchronized.
“EMC provides an expeditionary command post capability in flight, so the GRF can retain the same level of situational awareness and collaborative communications they have on the ground, in the air, without skipping a beat,” said Lt. Col. Mark Henderson, product manager for Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 1, which manages EMC for the Army. WIN-T itself is assigned to the Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical, also known as PEO C3T.
“EMC will enable these critical early entry forces to be better prepared and to adjust their courses of action as needed prior to combating peer and near-peer adversaries on the ground,” Henderson added.
The EMC tool suite also includes large LED screens that can be mounted throughout the aircraft, so paratroopers can see unmanned aerial vehicle feeds or receive visual updates from the commander before they jump into potentially dangerous drop zones, sometimes in the middle of the night.
“EMC increases their confidence,” Adams said. “They understand the mission on the ground and know in near real-time what is happening.”
During the GRF JFE training mission in May, the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division flew in an Air Force C17 aircraft for six hours, from Fort Bragg to a designated drop zone in New Mexico. EMC enabled the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division commander to keep ahead of changing battle conditions en-route. It provided an enhanced degree of operational flexibility, enabling him to communicate, plan, and adjust with all the joint elements inter-operating in the rear, in the air, and forward on the ground, said 2nd Lt. Zachary Jacobson, 50th Expeditionary Signal Battalion EMC officer in charge, who supported the training mission.
With EMC, the commander, subordinate commanders and his staff could “see everything first hand with their own eyes as it developed, which gave them the ability to be adaptive in response to and in accordance to the situation,” Jacobson said. “They were getting real-time information, so by the time they jumped out, they had a pretty good expectation [of what was waiting for them on the ground].”
Along with situational awareness and planning capabilities, successful JFE early entry operations also require inter-agency communications between multiple defense elements including the Army, the Air Force, and Special Operations Command (SOC), whose smaller elements are often first on the ground. Various Joint Operations Commands (JOCs) also helped to coordinate the joint elements during U.S. missions, Jacobson said.
Jacobson said that EMC provided three primary communication and collaboration services: the ability to reach back to the JOC for continual situational awareness and updates on developing situations, the ability for the JOC to reach forward to the battlefield commander on the plane, and communications between aircraft involved in the JFE.
“EMC provided unity of command,” Jacobson said.
The initial operational capability of EMC has been fielded since May 2015, and the Army is preparing to field the system’s full operational capability. The 82nd Airborne Division also utilized EMC during an Airborne Review at the unit’s annual homecoming event at the end of May, where it utilized the capability to coordinate a drop of both heavy equipment and paratroopers at Fort Bragg’s Sicily Drop Zone.
The system’s full operational capability will significantly increase the number of planes outfitted with EMC’s Fixed Installed Satellite Antennas (FISA). Once the FISA is integrated onto the C17 aircraft, Soldiers merely roll-on the other EMC equipment, and roll it off at the end of the mission. The full operational capability increases bandwidth and increases reliability of plane-to-plane communications.
It also provides a large Command And Staff Palletized Airborne Node (CASPAN) workstation designed for collaboration supporting mission command operations, in addition to the individual workstations found in the previous capability, said Capt. Dawn Wyant, Project Manager WIN-T EMC project lead.
“With the full operational capability, we can have a global impact in multiple locations at the same time,” Wyant said.
The first of the new C-17 FISA integrations was completed in May, and currently there are three integration speed lines running simultaneously, with the final aircraft upgrade scheduled for the fall. Upon completion, the fleet of mission capable C-17 FISA-equipped aircraft will be available to support the GRF on-demand.
“Communication is key across the spectrum [of operations], so being in the air should not be any different,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kenneth Grant, information systems technician for the 50th Expeditionary Signal Battalion. “Having that access to be able to communicate in the sky and on the ground makes us that much more agile and that much more dangerous.”