KMC Sailors bring technology to fight

Nate Cairney
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***When considering the Navy, one thinks about vast aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and great swaths of wide open water. One rarely considers quiet wooded corners in the KMC.

Yet the Navy is here, with dozens of Sailors tucked into more than 100 small white mobile maintenance facilities on a small compound at Sembach. And though the members of Expeditionary Logistics Unit One may be small in number, the tightly knit group plays a big role in advanced electronic warfare support.

According to Lt. Cmdr. Brian Lauer, ELU-1 commander, his team’s primary role is to provide advanced maintenance and ground support for EA-6B Prowler aircraft in forward locations. The Prowler, which is used primarily to support ground troops and strike aircraft, has strong electronic jamming capabilities and the ability to obtain tactical electronic intelligence.

And in the fight against a widely scattered foe that often relies heavily on distance-based communications, electronic warfare is more important than ever.

Also important is the ability to keep Prowlers in the fight as much as possible. Sometimes, this requires the application of new technology to help improve old routines. “There’s a mix of art and science in making electronic warfare work,” Commander Lauer said.

For example, ELU-1 has been using a number of “off-the-shelf” technologies to help improve the support process.  Chief among these are advanced video teleconferencing center units that have the unique distinction of being easy to use, saving a lot of money and greatly improving readiness.

The VTC units, which are black briefcases that open to reveal a camera lens and and an LCD screen, can stream video using small amounts of bandwith. This speed and portability allows downrange technicians to work directly on equipment while talking to experts in locations around the world. It is a system that Commander Lauer and his team call “Tech Rep in a Box.”

“The resolution is incredible – you can specifically show gear all the way from aircraft to tiny component size,” said Commander Lauer. “People can e-mail for a month (about a problem) and not get it, but five minutes on the VTC and they’ve solved it.”

The Navy has set up tactical VTC units in Bagram, Afghanistan, Sembach, the Crane Naval Warfare Center in Indiana and Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington. Consequently, downrange technicians can draw on the knowledge of experts from any location to help solve a problem quickly and get planes back in the fight. It is, Commander Lauer said, “like tapping into the big brain.”

Thanks to encryption technology, all conversations can also be held without compromising security.

According to Commander Lauer, much of the new technology implementation stems from an overarching strategy to reduce costs and improve readiness. By using VTC technology, for instance, shipping, repair and personnel costs are all steeply reduced. The VTC unit in Afghanistan, whose installation he recently helped facilitate, “paid for itself in five minutes.”

The end result, according to Commander Lauer, is a continuing improvement of the art of electronic warfare. “Because of the high-tech nature of these parts (e.g. transmitters in Prowlers), the only options are to fix the parts or take them out of the fight because there aren’t any more available,” he said.
“(With VTC), things are going to be fixed better the first time and we’re going to have instant access to knowledge and expertise that will allow us to solve discrepancies faster.”