U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) has finally installed the high speed version of their inflight data access for paratroopers or SOCOM operators to receive real time updates while in flight. This is part of an effort to provide special operations troops Internet like capabilities wherever they are. Not just in the combat zone but also while in aircraft on their way to a mission. The latest innovation is hardware (a satellite datalink for transport aircraft) and software (that provides classified data updates to troops on the aircraft). On the aircraft this EMC2 (Enroute Mission Command Capability) acts like Wi-Fi for troops on the aircraft.
This is part of a decades old effort to give the infantry have better mission planning tools, and these are even more useful than the one the pilots use, at least in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's because the ground troops, especially the SOF (special operations forces), are doing most of the fighting. The infantry run about ten times as many patrols and other combat missions than do the aviators. And the ground troops are far more likely to get shot at. Just as the pilots discovered decades ago, mission planning tools and combat simulators can be a lifesaver.
Sometimes the ground and air mission simulators merge. This was the case with EMC2 that showed up in 2014. This system was designed to operate inside U.S. Air Force C-17 and C-130 transports when carrying commandos, rangers or paratroopers as they are being flown to an operation where they will parachute in. This trip often involves eight hours or more in the air, especially if the flight is from the United States to some distant hotspot. During that time the situation at the destination can change quite a lot and the troops have to be kept up to date. There have been products similar to EMC2 available for over a decade, but with much slower data links (think varying degrees of dial up speed) and not as much supporting software. EMC2 deals with a lot of these shortcomings and the solutions that have long been on SOF operators’ wish lists.
EMC2 features internet service, mission planning apps, video, handling highly classified intelligence and collaboration apps so commanders on the aircraft can communicate with those on the ground or other aircraft. The aircraft are equipped with flat screen PC terminals that can also be used for teleconferencing. Data can also be transferred to tablets and smart phone type devices used by officers, NCOs and troops on board.
In the past troops had to wait until they were on the ground and got their own radios and sat phones working to get updates. They will still do that on the ground, but from now on the trip will be less boring and more informative as the troops get regular updates about what they are soon to jump into.
SOCOM can equip some of its larger transport helicopters with EMC2 and kit is being developed to easily and quickly do that for most aircraft that transport combat troops.