Photo Information

A Lockheed Martin KC-130J, an extended range transport aicraft designed for aerial refueling, sits on a Marine Aircraft Group 29 flightline at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point May 28, 2014. Marines assigned to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and MAG 29 participated in a briefing and demonstrations of satellite enabled internet capabilities available to Marines that are compatible with KC-130Js.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Joshua W. Brown

The future of communications: increasing situational awareness for Marines on ground

4 Jun 2014 | Lance Cpl. Joshua W. Brown 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Communication is an essential piece of the Marine Air Ground Task Force. Commanders rely on the effectiveness of the communication equipment available to their unit to collect information and make timely decisions during the developments of ongoing operations.

Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Marine Aircraft Group 29 participated in a brief and demonstration discussing potential communications capabilities available for Lockheed Martin KC-130J May 28.

The capability enables internet access and live video streaming from the KC-130’s cameras to troops on the ground or abroad via satellite.

Capt. Robert A. Doss III, the 26th MEU assistant communications officer and a brief attendee, said “The ability to provide situational awareness at the squad leader level is important.”

Live video streaming would enable squad leaders to adjust plans and brief their subordinates based on information they receive as a situation changes during an operation.

“The demo presented an option that can provide more bandwidth and give us more options during long distance operations,” said Doss.

Using satellites to access the internet from the KC-130s, the communications Marines aboard the aircraft have a higher bandwidth, which enables more reliable internet access and a larger amount of data to be transferred from the aircraft to the ground. This is how the video and other capabilities that require more data can be utilized.

“Right now all we have for operations is voice communication,” said Doss. “Training has proven that is too small.”

Troops on the ground rely on a pilot’s first-hand account and perspective during an operation to try and understand the events and pieces of the mission.

“What we have right now is a thin straw to pass information through, so the information isn’t a continuous and reliable stream,” said Doss. “This capability we’re looking into is more like a garden hose. It isn’t perfect, but it provides more information at a steadier rate.”

Maj. Russell A. Belt, the 26th MEU communications officer and another brief attendee, said there is still potential to improve beyond this available technology, but right now this is what’s available and reliable.

“We [the Marine Corps] view ourselves as the nation’s crisis response force,” said Belt. “It’s important that we figure out how to maximize that transfer of information to Marines before they hit the ground during an operation, so those Marines will have improved situational awareness.”

Situations can change and adjust rapidly as an operation evolves. A Marines situational awareness provides him with an understanding of those changes and he is able to make timely decisions in accordance with the new situation.

“We want to continue to improve our effectiveness and keep Marines prepared for operations, because traveling from one objective to another a situation can change dramatically, particularly during long flights,” said Belt.

The capability provides a continuous stream of information to squad leaders over a long distance. This keeps them aware no matter the distance they are from the objective.

“It’s more robust communication and it significantly increases command and control for commanders,” said Doss.