DOD information network expands to support anti-terrorism activities

Leaders in the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) are extending the Pentagon's global communications system horizontally to support anti-terrorist activities in an attempt to achieve interoperability with civilian agencies, says Lt. Gen. Harry Raduege Jr., director of the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) in Arlington, Va.

By John Rhea

WASHINGTON — Leaders in the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) are extending the Pentagon's global communications system horizontally to support anti-terrorist activities in an attempt to achieve interoperability with civilian agencies, says Lt. Gen. Harry Raduege Jr., director of the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) in Arlington, Va.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, DISA officials have added 18 federal agencies to their Defense Switched Network (DSN), Raduege told this year's TechNet International Conference sponsored by the Armed Forces Communications Electronics Association.

This current upgrading of defense communications capabilities parallels the original creation of the Autodin network after the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, Raduege explains. His agency is creating a new network known as the Defense Message System (DMS), which is currently interoperable with Autodin but is expected to be the sole military communications medium after Autodin is cut off in September — at estimated annual savings of $140 million.

Through the use of new technology, DISA also is increasing bandwidth. Raduege calculates that during the 1991 Persian Gulf War the 542,000 combat personnel had access to 100 megabits per second. In the recently concluded War in Iraq 350,000 troops could use 3,700 megabits per second.

"DOD needs more bandwidth to support anti-terrorist activities," Raduege told the opening session of the conference in May at the new Washington Convention Center. He specifically cited sensor data from unmanned aerial vehicles to achieve network-centric operations.

The issue of horizontal information sharing was dramatized in the Columbia space shuttle disaster earlier this year, he noted, in which non-military organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency were patched into a videoconferencing system over a weekend through the DOD's Northern Command. Raduege called this "a learning example for all of us."

The problem of horizontal information sharing between federal and other government agencies, as well as between military and civilian organizations, has been at the heart of the anti-terrorism effort. The military coordination role has been assigned to the Colorado Springs-based Northern Command. DISA is putting together the updated network as part of a 500-day plan and serves as what Raduege calls the bridge between the Northern Command and the DMS.

In contrast to the previous Autodin, however, Raduege says the evolving network will increasingly rely on commercial communications systems, such as the Iridium satellite system that is now being used to call in air strikes.

In the past the satellite X-band networks were limited to DOD users, but the new commercial frequencies are creating what the general calls "demilitarized zones" available to civilian agencies domestically and to back up military networks overseas.

Also at the conference, which this year centered on homeland security, engineers at General Dynamics C4 Systems in Taunton, Mass., displayed a command and control shelter mounted on a High-Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV). This is a voice-actuated system that interconnects existing communications networks of civil responders and military units.

As part of the trend toward greater horizontal integration, company officials explained, the shelter displays the same real-time situational awareness and asset management information on screens at the command centers and on users' computers in the field. The vehicle on display at TechNet was essentially put together with commercial off-the-shelf hardware and tailored for the counter-terrorism market, they added.

More in Communications