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Profile: Joint-Based Expeditionary Connectivity Center

Joint-Based Expeditionary Connectivity Center was a participant or observer in the following events:

A JBECC unit.A JBECC unit. [Source: Air Force]The US Air Force turns to a new type of device to improve NORAD’s air surveillance capabilities for the East Coast. The new system, called the Joint Based Expeditionary Connectivity Center, or JBECC, is a sophisticated mobile radar command center. It is housed inside a Humvee. Once the vehicle is parked, a tent can be expanded to allow additional screens and communication equipment to be laid out and used. Brown International, the Alabama-based company behind it, received an urgent call from an Air Force commander on the evening of 9/11, requesting the new system. A cargo plane was sent to pick it up immediately. (Associated Press 11/29/2004) On September 12, the JBECC prototype is deployed to Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia. It links the CONR (NORAD’s Continental US Region) Air Operations Center into AWACS and other East Coast radars. (Filson 2003, pp. 143) The principal innovation of the JBECC is that it allows the merging of military and civilian radar data on one screen. Now, the military can see civilian radar returns and transponder information without having to call the FAA. Reportedly, during the 9/11 attacks, the military’s inability to see the FAA’s data hampered its response to the hijackings. Terry Beane, the president of Brown International, will later explain: “A military radar will see there is something there but doesn’t know what it is. On 9/11, they were having to literally talk on the phone to each other. The problem was they didn’t know which planes were OK and which ones weren’t because they didn’t have all that integrated.” (Associated Press 11/29/2004) The JBECC is also superior at tracking low-level aircraft like cruise missiles, something that has always been difficult for ground-based radar because of the earth’s curvature. It was successfully tested prior to 9/11 during the Amalgam Virgo 01 air defense exercise in June 2001 (see June 1-2, 2001). (Sirak 5/4/2001; GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/27/2005) The JBECC will later be deployed during important national security events such as the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and the 2004 G8 summit in Sea Island, Georgia. (Associated Press 11/29/2004)

For a few tense minutes, an unidentified plane flying inside Washington’s no-fly zone comes close to being shot down by the military. The plane, a Beechcraft King Air, is carrying Governor Ernie Fletcher (R-KY), who is coming to attend the funeral of former president Ronald Reagan. The plane’s transponder is broken, but the pilot notified the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the problem earlier in the flight. However, the FAA failed to inform the military, which was therefore unable to identify the plane. In addition to the lack of transponder identification, the plane is flying deep inside the no-fly zone around the White House. The Capitol is evacuated at around 4:30 p.m., when thousands are awaiting the arrival of President Reagan’s coffin. An F-16 is scrambled to identify the plane but is unable to do so because of cloud cover. NORAD’s commander, General Ralph Eberhart, is asked if the plane should be shot down. Fortunately, the pilot turns toward National Airport at this time, ending the crisis. (Carroll 7/4/2004; Levin 7/4/2004; Hsu 7/8/2004) A new mobile radar command post, called the Joint-Based Expeditionary Connectivity Center (JBECC), which merges civil and military radar data and which was deployed in the Washington area immediately after 9/11 (see September 12, 2001), is used by the military to identify the plane and avoid a shoot-down. (Associated Press 11/29/2004)


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