TIME Military

82nd Airborne Going Digital

Joint Operations Access Exercise
Air Force photo / A1C James Richardson "What's down there?" These members of the 82nd Airborne, shown jumping from a C-17, will have a better idea of what awaits them once the EMC2 system is operating.

Paratroopers flying to hotspots soon will have broadband access just before bailing out

If you can carry the Internet in your pocket to check up-to-the-minute sports scores and the latest video highlights, why can’t the paratroopers of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division have it to check out enemy positions just before jumping out of their airplanes?

Turns out, they expect to have it by year’s end.

The Army’s Enroute Mission Command Capability—EMC2—will let the service’s always-ready-to-go Ground Response Force receive operational updates and full-motion video of where they’re going from inside the bellies of their C-17 aircraft just before they bail out.

“If the GRF can understand a situation before they get to their drop location, then they can be more effective from the moment boots hit the ground,” Lieut. Colonel Joel Babbitt, who oversees the new system, tells an Army public-affairs officer. “Instead of landing on the ground, analyzing the situation and developing execution plans, they can hit the ground executing.”

The Army will begin testing the gear this summer on Air Force C-17s stationed at multiple bases, with XVIII Airborne Corps—the 82nd ’s parent unit—expected to start flying with the capability by year’s end.

EMC2 links paratroopers in the sky to their commanders on the ground via satellites that feed data to the airplane through an on-board antenna. In addition to the Internet, EMC2 will provide airborne troops with computers, telephones and planning software designed to make them effective the moment they touch down. It will replace older systems operating at dial-up modem speeds.

The Army sees such technology, already aboard aircraft used by U.S. Special Operations Command, as a key to making it a more agile force. That capability will become increasingly important as more Army troops are based in the U.S., far from potential hotspots, and need to be briefed on their way to the fight.


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