Army deploys 'flying command post' for paratroopers

Army Enroute Mission Command Capability

A soldier checks her laptop using the modular EMC2 workspace that folds to create an unobstructed pathway for paratroopers to exit.

A recent Army development has led to what commanders are calling a “flying command post.” The Enroute Mission Command Capability, or EMC2 provides real-time and in-flight situational awareness from takeoff to jump for paratroopers on missions in hostile areas.

EMC2, which is being installed aboard C-17 transport aircraft, is the result of a government-to-government partnership that used rapid prototyping to put together the system in nine months.

“When we received the EMC2 requirements from the Army, we knew we would require specialized engineering support to quickly build what is essentially a flying command post,” Lt. Col. Joel Babbitt, product manager for Warfighter Information Network-Tactical Increment 1, or WIN-T, said in a news release. “We immediately reached out to our partners in the rapid prototyping and integration community.”

The prototype for the solution was developed in concert with WIN-T and the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command’s Communications-Electronics Center, known as CERDEC, which worked on the project at its C4ISR Prototype Integration Facility.   

Teams had to develop robust communications system, along with transit cases for radios and power supplies, and deliver Internet capabilities and secure voice over IP for phone calls and email.    

Given how the workstations would be used, each communications and transit case had to meet strict standards, such as a four-man weight lift limit, elimination of electromagnetic interference with other command and control airplane systems, and the ability to withstand the aircraft’s vibrations. Paratroopers also needed a stable workspace that allowed them to set up their laptops and access the Internet while still leaving enough room to get ready for a jump. The subsequent design, which can accommodate seven users, is tied to the floor of the aircraft and partially collapses when it’s time to jump.

“The system is built and configured in a way that makes it ideal for expeditionary missions,” said 1st Lt. Michael Laquet, 50th ESB platoon leader. “Thanks to its modular design, we can deploy a package tailored to the mission quickly and easily, and after only one training session, my soldiers were able to install the system in under an hour.”

A key feature of the system is that it lets paratroopers see a live feed of landing zones—with footage provided by unmanned aerial vehicles—so they can view threats on the ground right up until their jump.

Christopher Manning, chief, CERDEC CP&I Prototyping, Integration and Testing Division, said researchers are now getting ready for the next steps. “Our engineers are already working with WIN-T on future iterations of EMC2, including nodes for key leaders and support staff flying in multiple aircraft,” he said. “For us, a ‘win’ is when we transition something to our customers, but the real winners are the soldiers who obtain these critical capabilities sooner rather than later.” 

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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