Marines add new high-tech command & control system
- By Katherine Owens
- Jul 28, 2017
With a next generation radar system, a mobile radio antenna, and a Humvee packed with servers, the Marine Corps is introducing a brand new command and control (C2) system that is much faster, more accurate and mobile than its predecessors.
The new C2 system has been in tested in May and June at the Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, NC, according to the Marine Corps. Since the successful conclusion of those tests, the air station’s Marine Air Control Squadron 2 (MACS-2) has become the first unit to officially transition to the next generation system.
“As it stands right now, in our air C2 agencies we have the air situation picture well developed. But what is absent is an integrated depiction of the ground picture,” said Col. Rey Masinsin, Program Manager for Air Command and Control and Sensor Netting, in a recent Marine Corps Program Executive Office for Land Systems statement. “So what we deliver in CAC2S capability is the combination of the ground picture and the air picture so that we can better develop synergies between the two.”
The system consists of phase two of the Common Aviation Command and Control System (CAC2S), which also runs the Composite Tracking Network (CTN) system software. A truck-portable radio antenna allows line-of-sight connection for the CTN. According the Marine Corps, the computers and accompanying hardware are housed inside a portable tent, which is constructed with the support of a shell-back Humvee housing the system’s servers.
The CAC2S Phase 2 computing software can rapidly process operator commands, according to a MACS-2 spokesperson, taking only two to four seconds, as opposed to the 30 to 45 seconds needed by the old systems. Combined with the CTN, the new C2 system is capable of real-time data transfer, which enables the precision necessary to add a fire-control function in addition to situational awareness support.
“The CTN allows the Marine Corps to utilize its organic radar systems to integrate with other assets such as an E-2 Hawkeye or Navy ships that are out in the water,” explained Capt. David Haber-Mattie, Air Defense Control Officer for MACS-2. “If they want to fire a missile, but they’ve maxed out the range of the missile radar system on that ship, they can use our radar once the radar on that ship is not able to track it.”
The newest arrival to the MCAS Cherry Point testing field and the final component for the new-age C2 system is the Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR). The next generation radar system adds two capabilities that older systems lacked: the ability to track low-flying drones and cruise missiles and mobility.
The system can detect and track more complex flight paths and smaller objects than the five systems that it will replace, according to Cpl. Joshua Gagne, Radar Technician and Maintainer of the G/ATOR. Its interoperability with the CAC2S Phase 2 allows for more rapid C2 decision making and heightened fire-control function. It can also be constructed in just 30 minutes, said Cpl. Gagne.
“The radar auto levels itself and in the first couple spins around, it finds where north is. It does it all automatically; we don’t have to do anything to it. So that just increases our mobility incredibly,” explained Cpl. Gagne. “Since we are so mobile, any time there’s a gap in coverage, let’s say maybe they want to see behind a mountain, we can get that coverage in the time it takes to just get the radar there essentially, since…it doesn’t take us days to get there, we can move multiple times in one day,”
The mobility of the system as a whole is key as it means that in situations of contact or areas of intercept, the C2 system can be set up in the best location to facilitate the flow of critical information, said Sgt. Joshua Holden, Tactical Air Defense Controller with MACS-2. It is also important for the survivability of the system itself.
“We set up our site and then we had a UAV fly over just to do a site survey just to see basically what we looked like from the air. And it’s [camouflage] netting pretty much, so we kind of do stick out in certain aspects. So in that case if we have an enemy that spots us, we don’t want to stay there and get bombed. So the ability to pick up and move and then they bomb an empty site the next day is pretty important to keep us all alive,” said Sgt. Holden.
According to Col. Rey Masinsin, Program Manager for Air Command and Control and Sensor Netting, the new CAC2S Phase 2 is replacing the almost two decades old Tactical Air Operations Module, and the Mobile Tactical Air Operations Module. It will replace the older Tactical Air Command Center systems and provide software tools and real-time data to the Direct Air Support Center, which controls assault and air support for Marine Corps missions.
Phase 1 of the CAC2S provided the Processing and Display subsystem and the Communications Subsystem, according to statements from the Marine Corps Program Executive Office for Land Systems.
The G/ATOR system has further tests ahead of it in preparation for initial operational capacity in early 2018. Meanwhile, the Marine Corps has purchased nine CAC2S Phase 2 Systems from General Dynamics and seven are scheduled to be fielded this year. Once all 50 CAC2S Phase 2 Systems are contracted for and fielded, Col. Don Gordon, Program Manager for the CAC2S reported that the Marine Corps will update the software four times a year to obtain patches for cybersecurity vulnerabilities and general upgrades.
Katherine Owens is a freelance reporter for Defense Systems