October 8, 2014 --
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. - Camouflaged against the barren Arizona desert of Range 50, a small cluster of tents sit inconspicuously as generators hum around them. Inside the main Lightweight Multipurpose Shelter, it resembled something from a science fiction movie: Real-time topographical digital maps on two giant screens displaying every allied aircraft in the battle space with laptops and consoles lining the room, allowing communication between air assets for tasking in Marine Air-Ground Task Force operations.
For military commanders, maintainers and boots on the ground, the Common Aviation Command Control System (CAC2S) Phase II is a dream come true. For the Marine Corps, it is the way of the future.
Built to replace the 1960’s-era Marine Air Command and Control System, CAC2S features a number of upgrades tailored to Marines of the modern age.
“We put in a lot of collaboration tools similar to social media,” said Colonel Rey Masinsin, the Program Manager for Air Command & Control and Sensor Netting that CAC2S falls under.
“A lot of our new Marines are millennials,” he said. “So, if we can adapt our command and control [C2] to act like social media, the more intuitive it will be for the Marines to operate.”
These “digital native” Marines staff the three essential agencies of Marine aviation C2: The Direct Air Support Center (DASC) for close air support, the Tactical Air Operations Center (TAOC) for air defense, and the Tactical Air Command Center (TACC) for operational C2.
Operators will utilize these modernized tools to keep track of assets, coordinate close air support, provide air defense and issue medical evacuations with a digital picture - as opposed to relying only on voice communications with the legacy systems.
While the new software helps commanders ensure situational awareness and coordination on the battlefield through visual means, the other changes CAC2S will implement address cost, hardware and logistics.
“Today, in our legacy systems we have three different agencies that all have different pieces of equipment,” said Masinsin. “As you can imagine, we have to maintain, sustain and operate three unique types of gear.
“With CAC2S, we’re going to go down to just one common system for all the agencies. This also means a single pipeline of training and a single military occupational specialty for all three missions, effectively reducing costs.”
“It’s about consolidation,” said Bill Taylor, the Program Executive Officer for Land Systems Marine Corps, the Marine Corps’ primary acquisition program for high-end equipment. “Different missions are now using the same system. We’ve gone from distinctly unique and segregated capabilities to accomplishing those same missions with common hardware.”
Hardware that lets Cpl. Elijah Schellhardt, a Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Activity CAC2S support team member and maintainer, do his job more effectively.
“It makes troubleshooting a lot easier,” said Schellhardt, who has over six months of experience working with CAC2S Phase II.
“Instead of having to work around different skill sets for each piece of legacy equipment, we can easily talk through problems because we all know the new system.”
The CAC2S not only streamlines technical capabilities, but also improves upon the mobility of C2 in the field.
Schellhardt elaborated on the tangible benefits as well, explaining that instead of loading up seven-ton trucks with all the gear for MACCS and a trailer to work from, units would have one shellback Humvee housing the CAC2S servers next to a tent with the computers.
“The concept is to maximize space by having the servers on the outside,” said Schellhardt.
By enabling expeditious deployment of the system and its capabilities with the DASC, TAOC and TACC, the Marine Corps has come one step closer to deleting the fog of war.
Mapping the Future
“At the TAOC, CAC2S is paired with the prototype Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR),” Schellhardt explained. “Through these systems, they can send that radar feed to the TACC so they can see their aircraft in the sky.”
“The coupling of the systems allows us to take advantage of some of the new aircraft the Marine Corps is introducing,” said Col. Chad Breeden, commanding officer of Marine Air Control Group 38, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.
In 2012, the Marine Corps activated the first operational F-35B Joint Strike Fighter squadron, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, on Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. Future planning for the MAGTF makes the stealth aircraft an integral part of the Air Combat Element.
“When we work with the new F-35B, we’ve got to have equipment that can maximize everything that 5th generation aircraft brings to the battle space,” he said.
“We need to have command and control equipment that can leverage that and then push that out to the grunts and the Ground Combat Element,” said Breeden. “The whole system exists to integrate between the air and the ground.”