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I Corps tests distributed mission command concept in Indo-Pacific

U.S. Army Spc. Jordan Oosting and Maj. Michael Anderson offload a Stryker combat vehicle from a 62nd Airlift Wing C-17 Globemaster III at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Feb. 6, 2022. Photo credit: Spc. Jailene Bautista

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SANTA RITA, Guam - Challenged to think and act differently in the Indo-Pacific region, America's First Corps tested a concept that suggests the traditional Corps structure might not be relevant while operating in a region that's predominantly maritime.

Given the opportunity to experiment, the Corps headquarters partnered with the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy to exercise a first-of-its kind distributed mission command concept west of the International Date Line.

"We've got to be present in the Pacific," said I Corps Chief of Staff Brig. Gen. Patrick Ellis, "In order to do that, we need to be scalable, because scalability enables us to be more agile, resilient and survivable. So, to operate in the doctrinal way that Corps are built doesn't necessarily make the most sense to us. We're taking it apart and rebuilding it in a way that enables us."

First Corps' operational reevaluation involves creating a nodal mission command construct, experimenting with multiple smaller nodes in different locations.

"We're going to be collective, connected, but not co-located," said Ellis. "We think dispersal is the key out here in the Pacific. This way, we're able to move around faster, and we're not as big as a target, potentially, for any adversary."

To test this theory, a four-Stryker vehicle package with roughly 20 personnel and a robust communications capability flew via two C-17 Globemaster III aircraft from Joint Base Lewis-McChord to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. After performing mission command activities in flight, the small Corps node embarked aboard the United States Naval Ship City of Bismarck to prove an unprecedented Army Corps capability - executing mission command afloat.

"Establishing a communications network baseline that is inherently joint is critical," said Col. Elizabeth Casely, I Corps Communications (G6) Director. "Service-agnostic, sensor to shooter, flat architecture; once we've established that common network, we can pop in or pop out with all of our capabilities and exchange that information freely."

Casely's small team of signal support specialists from I Corps, augmented by the Joint Communications Support Element, MacDill Air Force Base, did just that, and capitalized on the opportunity to explore distributed mission command possibilities in a nautical environment.

"We integrated Army mission command systems with Navy network, traversing Navy satellite communications, which landed at a Joint teleport, then split off to an Army point of presence and then routed back into a larger joint network," explained Casely. "We've Lego-bricked all of this together allowing us to validate a proof of concept that is joint integrated command and control."

"We really want to become transport-agnostic," agreed Ellis. "We don't want to be emotionally attached to how we're moving data, we just need to be able to move it."

Leveraging their technological capabilities, the Corps also experimented with moving data via cloud computing.

"If we can tap into a persistent information environment that is supported by cloud computing, that makes things a lot easier," said Casely. "You're changing your setup times now from weeks or days to potentially a couple days or hours. Today, we're in the very nascent stages of determining how cloud computing optimizes distributed C2, but I'm confident about where we're headed."

While much of the Corps' experimentation of the nodal construct was technologically centric, Ellis said reassessing how the Corps operates involves the entire staff.

"This isn't just a communications challenge," said Ellis. "We see this as a ‘whole-of-staff' challenge. The hardest part out of all of this isn't the technological aspect, it's the process. It's taking us out of our comfort zone with respect to operating in large single locations. It's causing us to rethink how we do business, and really, it's about figuring this out as a team."

Casely said that being on a team in a dynamic, learning organization is transformative and contributes to continued success.

"We basically tested a hypothesis, and produced tangible results," she said. "It's not theoretical anymore. It is no longer academic. So the question is, what's next? The possibilities for the Corps are endless."

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