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Common Aviation Command and Control System

The Common Aviation Command and Control System (CAC2S) program aims to modernize the equipment of the Marine Air Command and Control System (MACCS) to remedy operational, technical, and performance deficiencies. It will eliminate dissimilar stove-piped legacy systems and provide standardized modular and scalable tactical facilities and common baseline hardware and software for all Marine Corps aviation command-and-control elements.

The new equipment, carried on Humvees with trailers, will significantly increase battlefield mobility and reduce the physical size and logistical footprint of the MACCS.

At present, C2 functions such as airspace management, close air support, and air defense operations are performed using a variety of equipment, little of which is the same, with each component requiring specific training and maintenance. CAC2S will provide high commonality, which is expected to result in efficiencies and cost savings in training and logistics support.


CAC2S is envisioned as a scalable, modular, and flexible communications system with an open-architecture design that can be deployed via Humvee within 24 hours of receiving a movement order. It is also supposed to be transportable by helicopters, airplanes, amphibious ships, and landing craft.

The main capability of CAC2S will be implemented in the Tactical Air Command Center (TACC), the Direct Air Support Center (DASC), and the Tactical Air Operations Center (TAOC), which fall under a Marine Air Control Group at the Marine Air Wing. The TACC manages the wing’s air assets. The DASC communicates with aircraft and coordinates air assault, close air support, battlefield air interdiction, and other air operations in support of Marines on the ground. The TAOC performs air surveillance and controls air-to-air fighter and air defense operations.

CAC2S will have three Humvee-based components: the Processing and Display Subsystem (PDS), the Communications Subsystem (CS), and the Sensor Data Subsystem (SDS). The three combine to create one complete air C2 system.

The Marine Corps restructured the CAC2S program in May 2009 to reduce technical risk. It adopted a revised acquisition strategy, implementation of which is in two phases.

As Navy Capt. Pat Costello, the CAC2S program manager within the Marine Corps’ Program Executive Office for Land Systems explained, “The first phase is to leverage two existing systems – the Combat Operations Center [COC] developed for Marine ground forces C2, and the MRQ-12 Humvee-mounted communications vehicle. We are developing the software and other modifications to them that are required for the COC, already produced by General Dynamics C4 Systems, to become CAC2S’s PDS and for the MRQ-12 to become its CS. We want to put an initial baseline capability into the hands of operational Marines as early as possible.”

Development of the SDS, which faced some fairly significant technical challenges, was deferred to Phase II. The SDS will integrate inputs from the various sensors that the Marine Corps uses, to include the planned Ground/Air Task-Oriented Radar (G/ATOR), as well as from tactical data links and other sources.

Costello said the CAC2S program during Phase I is working primarily with three government field activities: the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Crane (Ind.), the NSWC Dahlgren (Va.), and the Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Activity (MCTSSA) at Camp Pendleton, Calif., the service’s command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence (C4I) integration center. A Systems Integration Lab for CAC2S Phase I has been ongoing at Dahlgren.

The Phase I equipment completed its Critical Design Review in May 2010 and began development testing in July. It will culminate with an Operational Assessment, leading to a Milestone C low-rate initial production decision in November 2010 and Initial Operational Test & Evaluation (IOT&E) in March 2011, Costello said. “After we successfully complete IOT&E, we will go back to the Milestone Decision Authority for a Full Deployment Decision. And then we will field 20 Phase I units,” he said.

The CAC2S program was set to release a request for proposals to industry by September 2010 for SDS technology demonstrations. Several one-year contracts will be awarded in the fall. “At the end of that year,” Costello said, “we will conduct a live demonstration at MCTSSA of the competing companies’ Phase II prototype systems. That will drive risk out of the program and help us better quantify the work to be done to achieve the full capability. Then we will downselect to a single vendor’s Phase II SDS solution with which to move forward to integrate with the Phase I system to meet our full set of requirements.”

“The vision for Aviation C2,” according to USMC Concepts & Programs 2009, “is the development of a system that contains expeditionary multi-functional nodes able to perform the full array of aviation C2 functions throughout the range of military operations. Our system must seamlessly integrate with all existing and future Marine Corps C2 systems.”

The SDS will fuse sensor inputs from expeditionary radars, as well as real-time and near real-time data from ground force C2 centers, weapon systems, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and planned F-35B Joint Strike Fighters, into a common operational picture of the battlespace.

Closer coordination of the Marine Corps’ ground and air C2 centers made possible in the future by the modern new equipment will allow speedy responses to changing battlefield conditions. Those responses could involve providing artillery fire, dispatching a UAV, launching or redirecting helicopters or fighter aircraft, dispatching a UAV to provide surveillance, sending in helicopters for medical evacuation of casualties, or using some combination of air and ground assets.

CAC2S is scheduled to achieve an initial operational capability (IOC) for the Phase I system in fiscal year 2011 and for the full Phase I and II capability in fiscal year 2015, Costello said.

The Marine Corps plans to acquire a total of 50 complete systems in four scaled configurations for the air wing level on down – particularly at the TACC, DASC, and TAOC. Each configuration is made up of a mix of the SDS, PDS, and CS building block components. Some configurations are smaller than others. For example, Costello said, the very large TACC will have 168 console operators.

Editor’s note: In February 2011, Marine Corps Systems Command awarded Northrop Grumman’s Information Systems sector a $5 million demonstration contract to provide an integrated Phase I/Phase II solution for customer evaluation. Contracts were also awarded to Boeing, Thales-Raytheon, and General Dynamics C4 Systems for the three major sub-systems of CAC2S.

This article was first published in Marine Corps Outlook: 2010-2011 Edition.


Glenn Goodman, senior editor of the Journal of Electronic Defense, is also a frequent contributor...

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-849">

    Suppose its bad luck if you get the tent without air conditioning!!!

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-861">
    Chuck Oldham (Editor)

    That’s why you choose your MOS carefully. Make sure you go where the computers that need the cooling go!