The Army is on track with developing the Enroute Mission Command Capability (EMC2), networked, 1-2 mbps “office on a plane” for C-17 and C-130 transportation aircraft, according to LTC Joel Babbitt, product manager for the U.S. Army’s Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 1.
EMC2 will provide video teleconferencing, full motion video feed and multiple radio links to troops in the air. As such, said Babbitt, they will be “fully ready to execute, fully understanding the situation, as opposed to ‘just sleep on the plane and we’ll figure it out when we get there’ sort of thing.”
Right now, EMC2 is at its Initial Operating Capacity stage, with kits being installed on only a handful of the aircraft that support the Global Response Force. But the plan is to eventually equip one-quarter of that fleet, with a Ka band antenna being added to Ku later on, during Full Operation Capacity.
EMC2 replaces legacy systems like the Secure Enroute Communications Package – Improved (SECOMP I), discontinued as a program of record in 2011. SECOMP I provided what was considered a high speed data rate back in 2002-2003, 64 kbps. That was later upgraded to 256 kbps, still “the equivalent of a dial-up modem,” Babbitt said.
EMC2 will, as a cost-saving measure, operate in a networked formation, sharing capability. A few aircraft with Key Leader Enroute Nodes (KENs) will connect directly to commercial Inmarsat satellites. Subordinates, however, will have Dependent Airborne Nodes (DANs) and piggyback off the KENs with a radio line-of-sight link. There is also a Command and Staff Palletized Airborne Node (CASPAN), which serves as an airborne command post and doesn’t share links with the rest, communicating instead with the Global Information Grid.
Babbitt compares them to WIN-T Increment 1 Nodes in the sky.
Each KEN, DAN and CASPAN will have an A-Kit, which in Army parlance, is the equipment that stays on the aircraft and the B-Kit, the stuff that gets rolled on and rolled off. The A-Kit includesthe fixed-install satellite antenna (FISA) antenna, radome, some power modifications, radio interfaces, and line replaceable units. The B-Kit will just depend on the needs of the particular user.
EMC2 has its roots in a similar effort with U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) back in 2009, when Babbitt was a product manager for C4I unit within USSOCOM. “[As] we were developing our capability, the 82nd Airborne and 18th Airborne Corps identified the same sorts of gaps,” he said.
This confluence of interest led to joint work on an Operational Needs Statement (ONS), which was revalidated in March 2013. This ONS has been rolled into a Transmissions Capabilities Production Document, a requirements document working its way through the Pentagon for validation.
Looking into the future, Babbitt said the goal is to change the radome and include an antenna that can accommodate both Ku and Ka-band. Basically, the SATCOM user’s relationship with the two networks will be like a cellphone user not particularly interested in what cell tower he connects to so long as the call goes through.
This Best Available Network idea originated with ViaSat, and Paul Baca, VP of the company’s Government Systems Division said pulling together all the satellites, airborne equipment and ground infrastructure will pose a challenge. “There’s multiple technologies involved, the ability to point to different satellites when you’re in a particular region of the world becomes somewhat complex,” he said. “We’re trying to do that all seamlessly much as possible.”
Baca expects work on a Ku-Ka antenna to be completed later this year, and the company plans to extend that capability to smaller aircraft and smaller antennas. But as customers get more connectivity, he expects their demand will surge, especially with more ISR sensors and platforms crowding the skies. This will drive the need for more high-capacity satellites.
“We’re trying to look into the future well beyond the requirements we know today,” Baca said.
More content worth your time: LTC Joel Babbit also goes into great depth on Army enroute and air mobility communications in our on-demand editorial webcast, sponsored by ViaSat. Listen here .