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NEWS | Feb. 22, 2012

AFC2IC experiments with emerging communications technology in Air Force mission

By Senior Airman Jason J. Brown 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

The Air Force prides itself on operating at the cutting edge of technology, developing and implementing new technologies to accomplish their mission more efficiently. Whether at home on the base or forward deployed into the battle sphere, communications are critical to getting the job done.

The Air Force Command and Control Integration Center recently concluded a Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment, or JEFX, entitled Unified Capabilities I. The four-week long experiment, which began Jan. 16 and ran through Feb. 10, investigated unified communications benefits from mobile access and multi-use smart technologies, such as smartphones and tablets, to enable base personnel to conduct their mission tasks.

During each of the four weeks of the experiment, a different cellular provider, already on contract with the Air Force, set up a mobile infrastructure on Langley Air Force Base using third-and fourth-generation cellular technologies and mobile devices.

"This experiment was not a flyoff -- that is, its purpose was not to identify a single provider for a 'one-size-fits-all' mobile communications laydown, but to evaluate the different infrastructure solutions and equipment available today that might provide a menu of capabilities for (Combat Air Force) bases," said Col. Joel Martin, AFC2IC Innovation and Experimentation Division Chief.

With the cellular carrier's infrastructure in place, security forces, civil engineering, medical and maintenance Airmen conducted tasks using a variety of smart devices, including phones, tablets, and mobile hotspots, in order to provide data for a detailed assessment of the network. Assessment teams conducted communications checks from multiple base locations to evaluate capability and performance. The various sites were representative of the diverse locations which could be involved in first responder situations.

The measurements taken gauged how well each cellular solution addressed Air Force requirements for enhanced coverage, speed, capacity and implementation. The JEFX engineering team's design also focused on an enhanced, or augmented, infrastructure necessary to ensure maximum, uninterrupted coverage around the base, and to gain insight into the methodologies to improve the penetration of cellular signals inside buildings.

"The Air Force will likely rely more on mobile communications in the future, so it is important to understand requirements for robust, survivable cellular capabilities," Martin explained. "The shortcomings of our current infrastructure, such as signal strength and coverage can be overcome and COTS solutions are available today that are less costly than developing a separate capability on a shrinking DoD budget. The results of this experiment will help point the way.

With the experimentation complete, Air Combat Command's Communications Directorate will use the data gathered in the event to conduct an in-depth analysis that will inform the Air Force Mobile Strategy. This strategy lays the groundwork for a move from legacy technologies to the cellular communications infrastructure currently used by Air Force personnel in their everyday lives.

The AFC2IC will host a follow-up experiment, UC II, in July 2012. The next JEFX will build upon the UC I infrastructure and employ an operationally-relevant environment for Airmen to assess both opportunities and risks of using cellular technologies. The AFC2IC will investigate the viability of virtualization to bridge the gap between mobile infrastructure and unit level command and control applications.

"JEFX 12 UC I has been a true team effort that brought the strengths of the AFC2IC as well as the ACC A6 Directorate together as we experiment with the delivery of C2 applications and cutting edge infrastructure for CAF operators, warfighters and first responders," Martin said. "We are grateful to the 633rd Air Base Wing leadership for graciously hosting this event."