Rapid prototyping leads to quick delivery of airborne command post solution

By Kathryn Bailey, CERDEC Command, Power & Integration Directorate

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — The Army recently began fielding a network communications system that provides real-time, in-flight situational awareness to commanders and paratroopers to better support forcible entry operations from takeoff to jump.

The Enroute Mission Command Capability, or EMC2, came about by way of a government-to-government development partnership that produced a ruggedized network and workspace solution for the C-17 aircraft.

“When we received the EMC2 requirements from the Army, we knew we would require specialized engineering support to quickly build what is essentially a flying command post,” said. Lt. Col. Joel Babbitt, product manager for Warfighter Information Network-Tactical Increment 1, or WIN-T, which manages EMC2. “We immediately reached out to our partners in the rapid prototyping and integration community.”

WIN-T teamed with the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command’s communications-electronics center, or CERDEC. The center’s Command, Power and Integration Directorate led the effort for CERDEC and leveraged its C4ISR Prototype Integration Facility to complete the requirements.

The C4ISR PIF provides engineering design, development, fabrication, installation, integration, testing and fielding support for shelter, vehicular, aircraft, watercraft and Soldier prototype C4ISR systems.

Ruggedized Transit Cases

Soldiers configure the communications systems housed within ruggedized transit cases to allow in-flight secure network access and mission command for increased situational awareness, as part of the Enroute Mission Command Capability (EMC2) demonstration on May 14, 2015 at Pope Army Air Field, Fort Bragg, N.C.
(U.S. Army photo by Amy Walker, PEO C3T)

“Our partners in WIN-T sent us the EMC2 engineering requirements in November 2013, and in nine months we delivered,” said Christopher Manning, chief, CERDEC CP&I Prototyping, Integration and Testing Division.

The task included creating and delivering robust communications and transit cases to house radios, power supplies, and Internet capabilities for mission command applications and Secure Voice Over Internet Protocol required for phone calls, chat and email.

One critical transit case was designated for the Key-leader Extension Node, or KEN.

“The KEN is a mobile hot spot that includes everything required to connect to the Internet and reach back to the unit’s homestation while on the C-17,” said James Shannon, CERDEC EMC2 project lead.

Each communications and transit case had to meet stringent standards for mobility, functionality and strength.

First, they had to conform to a four-man weight lift limit per military standards even though they are wheeled. Second, the communications equipment could not produce electromagnetic interference with other command and control or airplane systems. Finally, the cases had to withstand the sometimes powerful vibration that occurs inside the C-17.

“We tested all communications capabilities with WIN-T, but to conform to strict Air Force C-17 airworthy standards, we employed our environmental test lab to create conditions specific to in-flight conditions,” Shannon said. “By testing for a variety of environmental issues, such as vibration, temperature, humidity, altitude, and shock, we are able to identify and rectify many issues before our customers conduct their own tests.”

Another major system requirement was to create a workspace for paratroopers and their laptops that provided Internet connectivity and physical stability while also leaving ample floor space to prepare for a jump. CERDEC engineers’ modular workstation design configures for up to seven users, connects to the Ethernet, securely ties down to the floor of the C-17 and partially collapses to create a clear exit path.

To ensure the workstation remained secure throughout the flight, engineers conducted a pull-test that mimicked the gravitational pull a C-17 endures during takeoff and landing.

The 50th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, 35th Signal Brigade, which supports the XVIII Airborne Corp’s Global Response Force, or GRF, recently demonstrated EMC2 aboard a C-17 at Pope Army Air Field, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The demonstration included establishing the entire EMC2 configuration from beginning to end.

“The system is built and configured in a way that makes it ideal for expeditionary missions,” said 1st Lt. Michael Laquet, 50th ESB platoon leader, who oversees the operation and maintenance of the EMC2 equipment. “Thanks to its modular design, we can deploy a package tailored to the mission quickly and easily, and after only one training session, my Soldiers were able to install the system in under an hour.”

One of the most critical capabilities using EMC2 is the paratrooper’s ability to watch live full motion video feeds of their drop zones. Derived from unmanned aerial vehicles, paratroopers can view threats on the ground right up to their jump. Additional upgrades for the EMC2 include separate video screens configured to hook directly onto the workstations, providing Soldiers with an up-close view of operational information.

EMC2, now referred to as the Army’s “flying command post,” has greatly reduced the unknowns that paratroopers can face during their often dangerous decent to the ground. The planned enhancements will further decrease these risks.

“Our engineers are already working with WIN-T on future iterations of EMC2, including nodes for key leaders and support staff flying in multiple aircraft,” Manning said. “For us, a ‘win’ is when we transition something to our customers, but the real winners are the Soldiers who obtain these critical capabilities sooner rather than later.”

Modular Workspace

A Soldier accesses her laptop using the modular workspace that folds create an unobstructed pathway for paratroopers to exit the plane, as part of the Enroute Mission Command Capability (EMC2) demonstration on May 14, 2015 at Pope Army Air Field, Fort Bragg, N.C. EMC2 provides in-flight network communications and mission command to increase the situational awareness of the Global Response Force.
(U.S. Army photo by Amy Walker, PEO C3T)

  • The Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America’s Soldiers.
  • RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army’s premier provider of materiel readiness–technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection and sustainment–to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.
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