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Seamless Connectivity From Sea to Shore

September 2000
By Christian B. Sheehy

Service continues to evaluate satellite-linked information system for use in amphibious operations.

The U.S. Marine Corps is assessing a new communications system that will enable deployed forces to establish data network connectivity between land and sea forces in support of joint amphibious operations. A combination of commercial off-the-shelf and Marine legacy equipment would provide basic tactical communications designed to meet the requirements of international operations. Currently undergoing a series of tests, the technology could be ready for full-scale implementation as early as fall 2001.

As technological improvements to operational capabilities make the global battlefield more accessible, the requirement for faster, more reliable forms of information exchange that can effectively support troops transitioning from one tactical environment to another continues to grow. The joint enhanced core communications system, or JECCS, will enable Marines and sailors switching from sea to land operations to establish a seamless line of information flow between all units of a given joint task force more efficiently than before, helping to smooth out the transition process.

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor responsible for the management, design, and integrated logistics support for all JECCS activities. Once fully adopted by the Marines, the advanced transmission system will provide any task force with a mobile core communications node using a specific combination of information systems equipment and software designed and developed for the Marine Corps.

“When fielded, JECCS should significantly improve the battlefield command, control and communications infrastructure for the expeditionary commander,” states Maj. John C. Holt, Jr., JECCS project officer, Marine Corps Systems Command, Quantico, Virginia. “It will provide the means of transitioning to larger communications systems in support of joint force missions.”

The mobile system reduces the footprint of currently used communications systems by approximately 50 percent while decreasing the setup time by 30 percent. The result of these reductions is a potentially dramatic increase in deployment speed and operational security, the major says.         

Transportable by the C-130 Hercules or the CH-53 Sea Stallion, the system is housed in an S-788 shelter mounted on an M1097 high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle. The equipment provides wideband satellite voice and data communications via the defense information systems network. During amphibious operations, JECCS will enable mission command to better coordinate communications and assess the tactical situation. This should result in multiple units being able to maintain constant connectivity, regardless of time or location.   

Prior to JECCS, deployed forces transitioning from sea- to land-based operations were hampered by the challenge of achieving a smooth conversion from ship to shore transmissions. During this transition period, units experienced a drop in information flow while they switched from sea to land coordinates. In the interim, they would be vulnerable to critical changes in the tactical picture that could not be communicated to them in detail. Due to this diminished contact, a failure to make an accurate and efficient assessment of the operational point of entry often occurred, delaying post-landing follow-up maneuvers. 

The introduction of JECCS into an amphibious assault scenario allows troops to make a faster, more efficient transition to another physical environment, decreasing the amount of communications downtime experienced during the troop movement. “In an enabling sea-to-land mission, a force’s ability to make a smooth transition from wet to dry operations is essential to establishing a reliable source of connectivity for any further mission activity,” the major maintains. “JECCS provides a higher degree of command coordination by offering a quicker, less complicated means of connecting units to forms of ground-satellite communication capable of handling larger joint task force operations.”

Operating in conjunction with the digital technical control (DTC) and the tactical data network (TDN), the system links directly to higher-capacity satellite systems. The DTC routes and manages the functions of network data circuits carried by the TDN during an operation. Data is stored and prioritized by technical controller personnel and released over the TDN as needed for deployment exercises. The TDN is the main platform by which tactical data travels from sender to receiver, fulfilling all of the networking requirements in a given tactical environment.

To maximize the interoperability of various systems, the U.S. Defense Department is leaning more toward the purchase of interchangeable commercial products. “Our goal is to streamline product acquisition for the purpose of fielding readily compatible equipment more quickly and economically,” Maj. Holt remarks. Specifically developed for the Marine Corps, JECCS offers this interoperability at a lower cost, allowing for immediate implementation without any preparatory modifications. 

Along with the interoperability advantage, the system brings other capabilities to deploying forces. Preconfigured packaging shortens communications setup time by allowing instant adaptability. “In the past, systems have required numerous modifications before they could be utilized in tandem with other devices,” the major explains. “With JECCS, there is no reconfiguring needed, so connection time is decreased significantly.” Operating via the global broadcast system (GBS), JECCS establishes communications using channels such as ultrahigh frequency tactical satellite and the defense message system to provide a variety of pathways.

Unlike many systems that require adapter units for compatibility with other equipment, JECCS is automatically functional with items such as laptop computers, TDN servers and various types of transmission receivers. A simultaneous connection with as many as three transmission systems can be established to provide long-haul satellite communications to deployed personnel. In addition, JECCS has multiple interface capabilities so that more than one system subscriber can transmit at any given time.

Standardization of equipment acquisition has been an ongoing focus of the Defense Department and the Marine Corps. A gradual shift from triservice-tactical to commercial off-the-shelf purchasing in an effort to maximize product availability and savings has been in process for some years now. In the past, the U.S. Navy and Marines have typically acquired systems as needed to counter current area deficiencies. Though sufficient in the short term, this individual parts purchasing often failed to accommodate longer-term planning in the arenas of depot support, extended system compatibility and personnel training.

“The fleet has been trying to move away from the ‘ad hoc’ kind of buying that it had become accustomed to,” Terry Conte, assistant program manager for switched systems, Marine Corps Systems Command, states. “In transitioning away from triservice-tactical to the commercial side, the military services have begun to streamline systems adaptability and training.” 

JECCS exemplifies this streamlining because, as a smaller, more portable version of the DTC or the TDN, it can be used interchangeably with these systems and uniformly throughout the military. “Opening up access to the greater variety and versatility offered by premanufactured commercial off-the-shelf products, such as JECCS, to cut the cost and [avoid the] limited flexibility of most privately designed systems seems to be the overall objective,” Conte adds.

Within this interoperability architecture, the system extends the reach of many commonly used network services to the deployed warfighter. The defense switched network (DSN) is the military’s secure telephone connection that allows anyone with the proper code authentication to dial up a DSN-secure location. In tactical deployment situations, a version of the DSN called the defense red switched network can be used through JECCS to call back to a secure command center. “With JECCS, troops have the ability to take advantage of almost any normal telecommunications capability that they would have back at home command,” Conte points out.

JECCS also addresses the demand for increased global-ready communication systems in the form of joint operability within the GBS and the joint worldwide intelligence communications system (JWICS) network. JWICS is the military’s secure version of GBS and permits the transmission of top-secret data to designated command destinations only. As needed, JECCS harnesses the advantages of both to help deployed troops receive a comprehensive picture of operations on an international scale.

In tactical situations where the visual confirmation of a specific task force objective is essential, JECCS can be used to access the videoconference network to help fulfill demands in this area. “Secure video teleconferencing has not been easy to make happen over our existing systems,” Conte explains. “We have the network infrastructure to do things like simplify collaborative planning using video, but as an overlooked end system, our capabilities have not yet satisfied the requirement.”

As the advantages of Internet-based connectivity become more evident, so too has the need for more World Wide Web-interoperable systems in the tactical operations arena. JECCS offers access to various nonsecure commercial and secure tactical sites. “The demand for greater amounts of visual information to satisfy the requirement for tools such as virtual battlefield displays and comprehensive strategic reports has made visualization a vital command necessity,” Conte indicates.

JECCS performs other satellite-link and network-based functions that are fundamental to tactical support. Access to integrated services digital network capabilities allows subscribers to enhance voice resolution through the use of digital technology.  

Tactical radio communications such as very high frequency line-of-sight and ultrahigh frequency line-of-sight satellite communications provide deployed units with a choice of contact options depending on target distance and physical terrain. 

Final assessment of JECCS as a viable addition to Marine Corps operations currently is being conducted at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and Camp Pendleton, California. Two engineering design models completed initial evaluation testing in June. A decision about production of the first deployable prototype is expected shortly. “The system has been thoroughly tested from the contractors’ functional qualification test to the operational assessment,” Maj. Holt notes.