Pilot program tests Wi-Fi in air hangars to improve aircraft readiness
By Mathuel Browne, Marine Corps Systems Command
The Marine Corps is investing in secure, wireless connectivity inside aviation hangars that will give maintenance crewmembers continual access to manuals, parts, and information for improved aircraft readiness.
Marine Corps Systems Command and Headquarters Marine Corps Command, Control, Communication and Computers, started Wi-Fi installation in air hangers aboard Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina in January 2017. The pilot program is intended to decrease time needed to order and receive parts, while increasing the range of access Marines have to online resources. By enabling access to areas without wired networking capabilities, Marines can execute aircraft maintenance tasks more timely and efficiently.
“Currently, there are not enough Ethernet ports in air hangars for all crew members to use,” said Joni Ong, MCEN-N Wireless project officer for Marine Corps Network and Infrastructure Services at MCSC. “Users generally have to work offline when away from the ports, slowing the maintenance process for ordering parts, taking electronic notes, updating essential manuals and key tasks.”
The wireless proof of concept will equip eight MCAS New River hangers with secure, high-speed access to the Marine Corps Enterprise Network – the Corps’ primary network. This will give Marines all the capabilities of the network, such as email, file sharing and access to secure websites.
“When you are working on wireless, it does not change the work that you need to do, just where you can do it,” said Ong. “Ultimately, Marines will have access to everything they would have if connected to an ethernet connection.”
MCAS New River was chosen as the first location for the Proof of Concept because of a requirement for increased flightline readiness to support Marine Aircraft Group 29, or MAG-29, a Marine Corps aviation unit based at New River.
HQMC C4 embraced the request as a viable option and took the lead to determine the policy and resourcing for the project. MCSC is responsible for the acquisition and installation of the system.
“A big reason that we wanted to support this project was to ensure that we are continually increasing Marine Corps readiness,” said Capt. Mary Beth Bloom, lead action officer for wireless at HQMC C4. “It was during a Marine aviation conference last year that MAG-29 shared a brief highlighting that Wi-Fi internet is a smart capability to increase speed and accuracy when maintaining aircrafts.”
Security has been a primary concern that has kept Marine Corps aviators from adopting wireless internet as a standard. With MCEN, only Marines with credentials have access the network.
“Setting up wireless internet has always brought on the idea of security vulnerabilities,” said Bloom. “With our current security, we are able to use certificates authentication as a level of protection when verifying who the users are. We can also restrict laptops to a specific wireless network in order to prevent information from leaving the hangar.”
Maintenance crew members will also receive rugged laptops, called Portable Electronic Maintenance Aids. These unclassified government devices are fielded by the Naval Air Systems Command and are preinstalled with electronic technical manuals and diagnostic applications crew members need to get working and submit repair requests.
Wi-Fi installation at MCAS New River is scheduled for completion by summer 2017. Lessons learned from the Proof of Concept will assist in obtaining additional funding for implementation at more air stations as well as logistics and maintenance units. An additional 20 air and logistics units are lined up for wireless installation, with the goal of making Wi-Fi an enterprise solution.
“Ultimately, there are a lot of crew members who would benefit from this capability,” said Ong. “We are taking incremental steps to ensure that Wi-Fi will be an enterprise solution across the Corps aviation community.”