By Lieutenant General Emerson “Emo” Gardner, USMC (ret.)

Marine Corps Aviation stands on the cusp of achieving its decades-long dream of providing the most modern and interoperable aviation capability in the world.

Today, the Marines operate thirteen different types and models of fixed and rotary wing aircraft as well as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). When upgrades are complete, the Marines will have “necked down” to six basic aircraft types plus UAVs. The capabilities of the new aircraft are cutting edge, from the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor, which flies like a plane and lands like a helicopter, to the new AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter, to the fifth generation F-35, a multi-mission aircraft that will be as much a sensor as it will be one of the best fighter/attack aircraft in the world — and the only one that can operate from amphibious ships or damaged, shortened runways.

The future relevance of the Marine Air Ground Task Force is very much dependent on the commander’s ability to integrate the capabilities of these aircraft into the “big picture.” Extracting maximum value from the Marines’ investment in these aircraft requires a smart command and control system.

The current Marine Air Command and Control System (MACCS) traces back to the post-Vietnam era and is a collection of systems built with single functions in mind. These systems contain design limitations that restrict further modernization and integration efforts. As an example, operators sitting in front of two, three or even four displays mean that the operator is the integration system – he picks a piece of information from this display, another from a second, yet another from a third and then figures out what it all means. This is simply not good enough for our data-rich environment.

What is needed is a single graphic interface system that pulls data from all available sources into a coherent picture. Such a system will simplify the task of operators and commanders and enable faster and better decision-making. For the Marines, that system is the Common Aviation Command and Control System (CAC2S).

The Corps’ CAC2S modernization program focuses on providing a standardized expeditionary package scalable to the size of each mission, with common hardware and software for all Marine aviation command and control functions. When fully operational in 2018, CAC2S will provide the ability to share voice, video, sensor and C2 data with theater and national sources – all from a single C2 node. Planners envision the system and its architecture becoming the basis to improve aviation C2 aboard amphibious ships. The Corps has requested full funding of the program in its budget process and contract award is set for later this year.

The Marines will build the new system by doing what they do best: taking the most practical aspects from everyone else and combining them into an innovative architecture. Using mature (Technical Readiness Level 8/9) interfaces will enable the Marines to take advantage of the large investments already made by the Air Force and Navy in their own air command and control systems and by the Army in its systems such as the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS). Leveraging existing and proven C2 capabilities should lower acquisition costs and risks, ensure interoperability among the services and reduce manpower costs.

The Marines’ support for CAC2S recognizes the necessity of having a modern aviation command and control system in order to fully exploit modern aircraft capabilities and win the joint fight. Integrated command and control is critical to the Marines’ concept of the single battle which holds that actions anywhere in the operational environment can affect actions elsewhere. With CAC2S, the Marines will be well positioned to lead the integration of aviation command and control functions into the joint operational environment.

Lieutenant General Gardner is Senior Defense Advisor at the Potomac Research Group.

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