The US Air Force recently achieved a first recently with a trial of a commercial SUV that was converted into the service’s first-ever mobile tactical C2 vehicle.
Airmen assigned to the Command and Control Division of the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron demonstrated “true on-the-move” Command and Control, or C2, capabilities during Black Flag 22-1 on the Nevada Test and Training Range at Nellis Air Force Base.
Building off of Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall’s seven operational imperatives, airmen assigned to the 422 TES C2 Division designed and employed a never-before-seen mobile C2 element during Black Flag 22-1 that aggressively responded to at least four of those imperatives.
Traditionally, ground-based tactical C2 platforms have been referred to as “mobile,” but are rather “movable” and relatively stationary due to being encumbered by the large form factor of the technology being employed.
For example, a current control and reporting center can take multiple C-17s or several 5-ton trucks and transport equipment and personnel into the field to establish operational capability in 24-72 hours. During this movement, the equipment and airmen are extremely vulnerable to threats in the battlespace.
“Smaller targets are harder to detect and destroy, the ability to also be constantly moving makes it exponentially more difficult on the enemy,” said Major Paden Allen, 422 TES Tactical C2 Division commander.
Air Combat Command recently published a Battle Management C2 Roadmap that outlines the desired change to how the Air Force provides C2 to combatant commanders. In executing this new vision, ACC has challenged itself with creating a new ground-based tactical C2 platform prototype by the end of fiscal year 2022 that capitalizes on newer technology and automation, while also demonstrating the ability to be tailorable and scalable to mission requirements.
Following discussions about the tactical C2 prototyping effort with other C2 community members, Airmen at the 422 TES saw an opportunity to go further and faster by asking, “What if we could perform our mission from a single vehicle, while on the move, and deploy in an agile combat employment scenario within Black Flag 22-1 without even having a setup time at all?”
“By truly being mobile tactical C2, we now complicate the ability for an opposition force to degrade or destroy our ability to command and control forces,” said Allen. “Using technology available today, we were able to demonstrate how the Air Force can rapidly deploy tactical C2 to an austere environment, aggressively improve the sensor–to-shooter timeline, all while also being resilient against our potential adversaries through a meshed network infrastructure.”
During this iteration of Black Flag, 422 TES Airmen took already existing commercial and governmental components, pieced them together, and equipped them into a commercial SUV creating the first-ever mobile tactical C2 vehicle.
Warfighters then executed two missions that demonstrated the ability to provide tactical C2 through accessing DoD computer networks, employing multiple tactical data links, and communicating with aircraft all while driving on the NTTR.
“It’s not only possible but necessary that this capability comes online and it comes online quickly,” said Capt. Patrick Lauer, a US Marine Corps exchange officer from the 729th Air Control Squadron, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, attached with the 422 TES for the execution of Black Flag.
“Large slow-moving, or moveable at all, command and control agencies are now targets, and are quickly becoming less viable, especially against the future fight,” he continued.
To replicate deployment and extraction from austere environments, the team was also airlifted using a US Marine Corps KC-130, demonstrating agile combat employment with joint partners.
“The fact that we did it inside of a large force exercise proves we can be mobile and we can be an impact on a much larger scale,” said Tech. Sgt. Kayla Sisson, weapons director from the 729th Air Control Squadron, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, attached with the 422 TES for the execution of Black Flag.
“The table is set, we have the way forward and now we just have to work out the fine details,” she continued.
The Air Force said the 422 TES C2 division would be continuing their mobile C2 vehicle experiments during local missions as well as other large force exercises throughout the year.