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Communications System Updates Military Mission Status On-the-Fly

August 2000
By Christian B. Sheehy

Army set to test planning, rehearsal system as part of wartime operations experiment.

En route airborne personnel soon may be able to send and receive vital information about the changing state of an operational landscape. A U.S. Army program aims to empower these forces to work with their home command to replan their mission if necessary.

Troops traveling to an operation could be in the air for many hours while the situation on the ground changes dramatically from what it was at the time of their departure. Ideally they should have a blow-by-blow account of what is going on as they approach the battlespace and have the ability to revise the operational plan quickly.

The en route mission planning and rehearsal system (EMPRS) will enable the Army to update and maintain joint situational awareness by establishing real-time, in-transit communications between ground command and deployed airborne units.

“Once in commission, the new system will revolutionize deployment capabilities by increasing communications versatility to meet the greater demands posed by today’s battlefield objectives,” Dr. James Soos offers.  Soos is chief of the information systems integration office of the Army Communications-Electronics Command’s (CECOM’s) Research Development and Engineering Center, Fort Monmouth, New Jersey.

The system, which is scheduled to be tested as part of the September 2000 joint contingency force advanced warfighting experiment (JCFAWE) while on the move between Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Fort Polk, Louisiana, is one of the latest products in the Army’s search for versatility in comprehensive operations communication. As a capability of the Army battle and command system (ABCS), it will act as a platform for three-way communications between mission command headquarters, a task force en route and a site of operations. The system also will provide command and control to deploying forces by enabling headquarters to plan and replan operations collaboratively based on changes to the operational scenario.

“Before this new system, we still lacked the capability of ensuring that en route air troop units were fully informed of critical changes in the battle plan,” Soos emphasizes. “Once the operation was underway, the task force was literally forced to choose between executing initial orders blindly or aborting the mission.”

EMPRS is expected to significantly reduce this uncertainty. The system is composed of an ABCS command and control subsystem and communications subsystem. In an actual operation, these subsystems would be integrated into two transport aircraft of the Joint Airborne Command Center/Command Post (JACC/CP).  Another transport would accompany the squadron and serve as a gateway or relay controller for all interaircraft communications.

The system will be implemented in four independent phases. The first, called the garrison or green ramp phase, encompasses the initial on-load of troops and equipment at the intermediate-staging base. The transition from ground to air communications using ABCS version 6.1 software and assigned hardware from EMPRS and tactical Army command vehicles initiates operational readiness procedures. Once this is accomplished, green ramping commences with the loading of soldiers and materials onto transport aircraft.

“Our main objective is to establish a free flow of situational information by adding sufficient command and control equipment to upgrade the existing joint force communications to be interoperable within EMPRS architecture,” Soos states. “The idea is to be able to bring up communications between all the aircraft while at the same time maintaining a reach-back connection to the tactical Army command and a reach-forward connection to the intended objective site.”

Interaircraft communications will be established using the flying local area network (FLAN), which provides digital connectivity between laptop servers used by designated personnel. The global broadcast system will provide digital communications capabilities, including wideband reach-back connectivity at between 50 and 60 kilobits of bandwidth per radio signal. From the laptops, the task force will be able to plan and construct an attack scenario using the battle planning and visualization system. EMPRS will allow operational commanders to plan and share information visually in an integrated three-dimensional format.

“We will be using two FLAN variations in September,” Soos reports. “One is the standard Army near-term data radio at data rates of greater than 200 kilobits per second. The second is a wireless local area network at data rates greater than 2 megabits per second.” Personnel will access voice communications through the audio monitoring system (AMS) comprising the remote control consoles (RCC) and the radio interface box (RIB). Various RCCs will be controlled by one RIB per aircraft. A choice of radio voice network for interaircraft communications or an intercom system for intra-aircraft communications will be available aboard all JACC/CP transports.

“The AMS is a part of EMPRS that will not only allow the user to monitor any inter- or intra-aircraft voice communications but also enable the user to see a display of the voice networks on other aircraft via the RIB,” Soos relates. To increase sound intelligibility, each RCC station will include self-powered, noise-canceling headsets. The headsets will allow users to interface directly with the aircraft intercommunications system in noise-canceling mode for communications with the aircrew.

Two kinds of long-haul digital communications will enable connectivity between the task force aircraft and tactical Army command at Fort Bragg. The first, a Ku-band global broadcast system receive suite, will accept data rates greater than 1 megabit per second. The signal for this suite will come from Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, and be received by one JACC/CP aircraft and a C-135 gateway/relay transport.

Another long-haul digital capability will be provided via a long-range tactical satellite communication (TACSATCOM) wideband ultrahigh frequency signal that will allow reach-back communications to headquarters at data rates of greater than 25 kilobits. The standard Army AN/PRC-117F radio (SIGNAL, August 1999, page 45) will provide TACSATCOM capability to all task force aircraft. A number of Chelton hatch-mounted antennas on the transports using advanced data controller/Internet protocol will act as pathways for satellite-to-radio signal linkage.

“The challenge in establishing two-way digital communications between air and ground will be trying to find ways of increasing the bandwidth of information flow back to our point of origination,” Soos explains. “Since receiving information is not the problem, optimizing the digital bandwidth to maximize the amount of information we send will be the objective.”

Phase II of EMPRS, also known as en route phase one, is the first of two airborne phases that will test the in-flight effectiveness of the system. The tactical mission will require six EMPRS-outfitted Hercules C-130s, a JACCP/CP C-130 and the C-135 gateway/relay aircraft. It will begin with the liftoff of the eight tactical aircraft from Fort Bragg and conclude with an airdrop forced-entry operation by the 3rd Battalion of the 325th Airborne Infantry at the objective site.

“The six C-130s will be carrying units of the 3rd Battalion of the 325th Airborne Infantry and the 1st Battalion of the 87th Infantry,” Soos indicates. Units of the 1st Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division will drive from Fort Drum, New York, to the operations site, while the 2nd Battalion of the 22nd Infantry will drive from Alexandria, Louisiana. The C-135 will act as a focal point for the coordination of digital communications between the different aircraft, he adds.

Supported by the tactical command post at Fort Bragg and the USS Mt. Whitney, the airborne task force will make its way to Fort Polk. While en route, EMPRS command, control and communications subsystems will be integrated into the updated joint communications support element that will serve as the main communications platform for the 18th Airborne Corps Battle Staff (ACBS) on the JACC/CP C-130.

During phase II, a high priority for task force operations will be to continually update the tactical position of both enemy and friendly units via the ABCS. The all source analysis system (ASAS) will provide the red, or enemy picture, through map overlays and icons. It will give information on the movements of unfriendly units at the objective site by ultrahigh frequency satellite linkup. The maneuver control system (MCS) will maintain the blue, or friendly, picture using interaircraft data communications and movable icons on maps to track the task force’s position. Both the ASAS and the MCS use common tactical software suites designed for terminal-based application.

The advanced field artillery tactical data system (AFATDS) provides another tactical capability. Designed for fire-control support, AFATDS will tell the task force which air-defense weapons to use and when to use them. “AFATDS software allows us to plan ahead in preparation for the type of weapons system that will be required to meet a threat,” Soos states. “Knowing what weapons are needed ahead of time enables the proper decisions to be made in response to a given challenge.”

The information dissemination management–tactical (IDM–T) system prioritizes information sent over the global broadcast system using software that transmits Web-based data from unit to unit, allowing more urgent communications to reach their destinations first. “IDM-T is essentially an information flow regulator that parcels out data based on its importance to the mission’s immediate needs,” Soos explains. “It also keeps the communication ‘pipes’ from getting jammed with too much information at one time.”

Phase III, or en route phase two, commences with the forced-entry airdrop of the 3rd Battalion of the 325th Airborne at Fort Polk. The task force will pick up troops and tactical vehicles of the 1st Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division and the 2nd Battalion of the 22nd Infantry Regiment while the JAACP/CP and gateway transports station themselves above the attack zone. New information about changes in the tactical ground picture will then be relayed to the18th ACBS.

“The task force will loiter over the intended objective area while new information received from the embarked ground units is considered,” Soos offers. “It is in this phase when replanning and re-rehearsal activities are taking place, so this is when EMPRS capabilities are really put to the test.”

Under the communications umbrella provided by the ABCS, the tactical operations center stationed inside the JACC/CP C-130 will use a satellite-to-ground linkup by way of Army standard single channel ground and airborne radio system transmission. As information is received about alterations in the tactical picture, the tactical operations center will take the appropriate action to prepare units for disembarkation at the newly determined location.

The fourth and final phase of EMPRS occurs during the roll-off portion of the mission. A representative unit of the ACBS, accompanied by the C-135 gateway aircraft, will remain in the JACC/CP C-130 over the objective area. The remaining task force C-130s will land at specified disembarkation points to unload the troops and vehicles of the assault force. Transitioning back to ABCS ground communications marks the completion of airborne EMPRS activities.

“Barring unforeseen weather conditions or equipment failure, the airborne assault will commence on September 8 out of Fort Bragg,” Soos remarks. “The insertion of the 1st Brigade would then happen on the following day at Fort Polk.” As is the case with all mock-ups, the JCFAWE will only gauge mobilization readiness for a potential conflict situation, not the real thing. Once EMPRS has been tested, any bugs in the system will likely become apparent, he adds.