Air Force

Army Designs System to Keep Paratroopers Connected In-Flight

U.S. Army paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division descend to the ground after jumping out of a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft, over drop zone Sicily during Joint Operations Access Exercise (JOAX) at Ft. Bragg, N.C., on Sept. 10, 2011.  JOAX is a one-week exercise to prepare the Air Force and the Army to respond to worldwide crises and contingencies.  U.S. Air Force photo/A1C James Richardson (RELEASED)The Army has developed an airborne satellite system that can be loaded onto an Air Force C-17 cargo aircraft that allows paratroopers to communicate with voice, video and data while flying to the mission, Army officials said.

Army leaders hope to deploy the system called Enroute Mission Command Capability, or EMC 2, by 2017.

“EMC 2 brings high speed data to the upper echelon of the Global Response Force. It brings a number of services with it including voice, video, data, teleconferencing, chat and mission command implications,” said Lt. Col. Joel Babbitt, product manager for WIN-T.

The mobile, airborne satellite network is a new extension of the Army’s Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or WIN-T – a ground-based, high-speed radio and satcom network allowing commanders to chat, view digital maps and exchange data between forward bases and while on-the-move in vehicles.

The technology is initially slated for the Global Response Force, a brigade-strong rapidly deployable unit designed to reach anywhere in the world within 96 hours of being notified. The unit, which has been used in many conflicts to include the first Gulf War in 1991 and other conflicts since, consists of a portion of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.

“This allows them to do dynamic planning while they are in route to an objective,” Babbitt said.

“They get on a plane and fly somewhere between 12 to 20 hours to get to an objective. During that time they have very little data. The transformation we are making is that they will be able to have voice communications along with huge amounts of data,” Babbitt explained.

EMC 2 brings the capability into the cargo section of a C-17 using commercial satellite connections, bringing paratroopers on the move the ability to monitor developments while in transit.

“C-17s today have some limited data capability for the pilots and air command, including navigation and pilot communications back to air operations center,” Babbitt said.  “This brings high-speed data to the paratroopers in the cargo section of the plane. The amount of data required for mission command exceeds what the pilots have available to them.”

The EMC 2 technology uses modified Air Force C-17s engineered to operate with AN/PRC-152 wideband networking radio, commercial satellites and the ANW2 waveform.

Babbitt said it is possible the EMC 2 technology will be extended to other airborne units in the Army.

– Kris Osborn can be reached at Kris.Osborn@military.com