Network-Centric Operations Go on the Road

October 2005
By Maryann Lawlor
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For the U.S. Army V Corps, a team from the Joint Systems Integration Command installed the Command and Control on the Move (C2OTM) system on an M4 command and control vehicle (C2V). The hub is located in Heidelberg, Germany.
Commanders no longer have to choose between capability and mobility.

People talking on cell phones while behind the wheel may be an annoyance during rush hour traffic, but the ability to communicate on the go is one that commanders in a combat zone crave. So members of the U.S. Army V Corps were intrigued when they discovered that the command that focuses on joint warfighter needs was developing a system that would allow not only mobile voice but also data and imagery communications. As a result of that curiosity and the work of many dedicated experts, troops rotating into current operations can conduct command and control as effectively and efficiently while on the road as they can in headquarters.

Working with industry, the Joint Systems Integration Command (JSIC), Suffolk, Virginia, began designing the Command and Control on the Move (C2OTM) system in response to communications shortcomings identified in operations. The system was specifically built with Multinational Force Corps–Iraq joint warfighter needs in mind and will be used primarily by V Corps during its next rotation to the area.

The C2OTM operational prototyping effort began in April 2004. To enable commanders to communicate while traversing the battlespace as well as they could in operations centers, experts from JSIC, a subordinate command of the U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), Norfolk, Virginia, leveraged commercial technologies. The JSIC team called on expertise from other organizations as well, such as the Battle Command Battle Lab at FortGordon and the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, San Diego.

Approximately one year later, with the proof-of-concept phase complete, the team began building an operational system that could be assessed in realistic conditions and used in operations. The JSIC team chose a high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle as the platform to test the system prototype.

In the meantime, V Corps troops in Heidelberg, Germany, were searching through programs of record for a mature mobile C2 solution as they prepared to deploy to Iraq. V Corps was specifically seeking on-the-move and in-the-field connectivity to the nonsecure Internet protocol router network (NIPRNET), the secret Internet protocol router network (SIPRNET) and the Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System (CENTRIXS) for the corps’ commander and support staff. Finding no complete solution in a program of record but aware of JSIC’s C2OTM prototype effort, V Corps turned to JFCOM.

The C2OTM system is based on a spread-spectrum architecture that uses a time domain multiplexed satellite method for channel broadcasts to all users and asynchronous code reuse multiple access for random access for the return channel. This approach is based on the Spread ALOHA protocol that leverages the spreading effect of the pseudo-noise code.

Comprising a hub controller suite and antenna and mobile terminal equipment and an antenna for the vehicle, the system operates in the Ku band rather than Inmarsat’s L band like other on-the-move communications designs. As a result, it provides an order of magnitude increase over other systems in transmission rates.

The hub performs cancellation processing and controls the mobile terminal output power to prevent channel saturation. In addition, the hub decodes and separates the transmissions of all the mobile units. During C2OTM system development, the hub was located at the ViaSat facilities in Carlsbad, California; for V Corps, it was set up in Heidelberg. On-the-move communications is possible as long as the hub and mobile units are operating in the same satellite footprint, which can cover thousands of miles. Dozens of terminals can communicate randomly across the satellite return channel, and each terminal can support dozens of users.

A Titan Corporation 18-inch three-axis parabolic antenna is installed on top of the vehicle. To ensure that the antenna is constantly pointed at the satellite while on the move, an inertial reference unit that receives positional updates from a Defense Advanced Global Positioning System receiver senses roll, pitch and yaw motion. Although signal blockage can occur when the vehicle is situated near tall buildings or dense foliage, signal reacquisition occurs immediately after line-of-sight is restored.

Because the C2OTM uses an Advanced Encryption Standard encrypted virtual private network, information security is assured. All data originating on the SIPRNET and CENTRIXS networks is first encrypted using an AltaSec KG-250 encryptor.

A voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) gateway and session controller manages up to 25 telephone calls simultaneously. Any foreign exchange subscriber equipment can be used for voice communications, including secure telephone equipment, the Secure Telephone Unit III (STU III) or a plain old telephone system handset.

Users also can communicate securely when away from the vehicle. The C2OTM features a SecNet-11 wireless bridge developed by the Harris Corporation that provides an 802.11b-based Type 1 secure wireless link to handheld devices such as a tablet PC.

The C2OTM is one of several technologies the military is developing to facilitate mobile communications, such as the U.S. Marine Corps’ C2 on the Move Network, Digital Over the Horizon Relay, or CONDOR (SIGNAL, April 2004). However, the C2OTM system’s capabilities differ from other mobile communications systems’ services in several significant ways, explains Lt. Cmdr. Steve Fahey, USN, C2OTM project lead, JSIC.

For example, the spread-spectrum modem enables the C2OTM to operate using a very small antenna that expends less power and is smaller, lighter and less costly than the antennas other systems require. These are ideal characteristics for communications equipment mounted in the limited space of vehicles, Cmdr. Fahey says.

Also, while CONDOR features a tactical data network vehicle, the C2OTM system’s capability to reach back for data reduces the size of a convoy. “We don’t have to drive around with a vehicle that carries servers. We can reach back to those servers—wherever they are—and pull the data that we need because we have that broadband capability. The mobile footprint is reduced drastically,” the commander relates. “It just makes for a nice, easy package that you can install in just about any type of vehicle and allows you to reach back to multiple networks.”

The C2OTM system also is more cost-effective than other approaches. The cost of usage through Inmarsat is time-based and, although blocks of time are purchased, connectivity can be expensive. “What you’re doing here is paying for space on a satellite. Once you’ve paid for that space, you can use it 24/7. You can use. I can use it. We can both use it. All our friends can use it, and there’s no additional cost no matter how many people are on that system. Eventually you would reach a point where you can handle only so many people, but that’s a very large number. It’s like being at home and paying for unlimited long distance service. Imagine paying for a service that allows you and your friends and neighbors to use that phone line. Not only that, you will also operate 10 times faster than the more expensive method. So not only is it cheaper, particularly as you add more users, but also you can work significantly faster,” Cmdr. Fahey explains.

The number of networks available to users is another feature that distinguishes the C2OTM. It provides access to the SIPRNET, NIPRNET and CENTRIXS while traveling at 45 miles per hour with data rates that are similar to those available in a headquarters, office or home.

“In our approach, you can do pretty much anything. If you want to reach back and pull your COP [common operational picture] and have a live COP, you can do that. If you want to reach back and pull imagery, if you want to have an InfoWorkSpace collaborative session, if you want a VTC [video teleconference], if you want to make phone calls, you can do all this, do it all simultaneously and do it across three different networks,” he explains.

From a C2OTM workstation, warfighters can access both the nonsecure and secret Internet protocol router networks as well as the Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System. They can collaborate using the InfoWorkSpace application, view the common operational picture on the command and control PC, access e-mail and place secure telephone calls.
The C2OTM addresses some of the challenges troops faced in operations, including on the road into Baghdad early in operation Iraqi Freedom. Available systems could not provide the capabilities commanders required while in transit, so troops had to stop to set up antennas, which took time. “This makes you vulnerable, and if you’re a commander in a battlefield environment, that doesn’t make you comfortable. As a result, commanders either don’t want to stop, so they sacrifice capability, or they can’t be where they want to be because they need to be in the rear to have the capability they want—but then they don’t have mobility. What we’ve tried to do is build a solution where commanders don’t have to trade capability for mobility. They can have both, truly on the move,” Cmdr. Fahey states.

Ergonomics is one limitation of on-the-move communications, the commander admits. Viewing imagery while bouncing around in a vehicle can be difficult, he says. However, because data continues to download in transit, troops can immediately view the most up-to-date information as soon as conditions allow.

This summer, JSIC personnel answered V Corps’ need by setting up the hub in Germany and installing the suitcase-size mobile terminal equipment in an M4 command and control vehicle (C2V). Up to six soldiers and workstations can be situated in the rear compartment of the C2V. V Corps purchased a second mobile system that will most likely be installed on a Stryker, the commander says.

After installation, the JSIC team tested the equipment and trained personnel. Cmdr. Fahey relates that during the pre-deployment mission rehearsal exercise, the system performed exactly as anticipated. “On occasions in V Corps, they would take it out in the training area in Germany and would have it on the road for several hours at a stretch in rough terrain. From within the vehicle, they would take their nightly battle update briefs from the joint operations center [JOC], or the vehicle would be parked and would support people operating in the tactical operations center who were making phone calls and getting information from the JOC. It performed flawlessly,” he states.

For the exercise, the rate for data transmission to the vehicle was 2 megabits per second, and the return data rate from the vehicle was 512 kilobits per second. For deployment, the commander notes that the JSIC team expects that data will flow to the vehicle at 10 megabits per second.

The system already has helped V Corps demonstrate the feasibility of an idea it is pursuing: the assault command post concept. During the exercise, equipment in a C2V was connected to equipment in a tent using Category 5 cable, providing a 15-person tactical operations center with full communications capabilities. Connecting to the tent took less than two minutes.

“Now, the entire staff could dismount from their vehicles and were on the air ready to go. There was nothing to set up. How you use your time is not dictated by establishing communications capabilities now; it’s dictated by how long it takes you to set up the equipment because the communications capability is there,” the commander explains. Once troops are ready to travel again, the cables are unplugged, but the soldiers are still connected to data, including the common operational picture as well as voice, data and imagery transmission capability.

In addition to the C2OTM technical staff, JFCOM sent a team to V Corps to address the doctrinal issues that arise when new capabilities are introduced into the field. The team delved into topics such as training and usage.

Although first fielded with the Army, the system can be deployed with any service. “In this particular application, V Corps has two mobile terminals, but it could just as easily have been the Navy, Marine Corps or Air Force. And once you put a hub in a region where you can tie back to the networks, any service, any type of mobile platform can tie back into that hub. So it really does scale across the joint community and requires no coordination between the individuals,” the commander says.

A total of 15 months transpired between the beginning of the C2OTM prototyping effort and delivery of the system to V Corps. Cmdr. Fahey says this quick turnaround was due in part to JFCOM’s funding support under its limited acquisition authority. Additionally, because the C2OTM system is not a program of record, it has not been subject to some of the institutional biases that exist, he notes.

While JFCOM will support V Corps, it is not the command’s role to distribute and support systems on a massive scale. “We hope that by showing that it works and that the soldiers love it, we can influence the programs that have wrestled with this for years. You have to overcome the institutional biases that are out there. We can sit and have meetings about on-the-move communications all day long, or we can just demonstrate that it works. You can’t argue with success. We’ve made a commitment to programs to share all our data with them and provide any backup components that they’re interested in. We hope they can put biases aside and adopt what we’ve done,” the commander says.

Cmdr. Fahey emphasizes the C2OTM system is ready for immediate deployment with any of the services and can support current operations. Delivery time is limited only by how long it takes to acquire and install the equipment.


Web Resources
Command and Control on the Move:
Joint Systems Integration Command:
U.S. Joint Forces Command:
U.S. Army V Corps: