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Coalition Network Reports for Duty

June 2, 2010
By Lt. Col. Patricia S. Collins, USA, SIGNAL Online Exclusive

One of the most significant challenges the U.S. commander in Afghanistan has faced is the technical capabilities needed for command and control. The commander has not been able to obtain the most current information at the right time to make the most timely, effective decisions. This has been largely because of the lack of a single, classified network that facilitates information sharing across all coalition partners.

To solve this problem and support NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission, the Afghanistan Mission Network (AMN) has been implemented, which consolidated and fully integrated the information domain. Initial operational capability occurred on October 23, 2009; full operational capability is scheduled to take place on July 10, 2010.

The AMN is the primary coalition, command, control, computer, communication, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C5ISR) network in Afghanistan for all ISAF forces. It comprises the ISAF Secret network at the core and national extensions, such as the U.S.-provided Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System (CENTRIXS)-ISAF (CXI), the U.K.’s OVERTASK and other national networks.

In the past, financial and eligibility constraints based on historical NATO policy limited the extension of the ISAF Secret network, and in some cases the network was nonexistent below a regional command level. Whether countries’ funding for information technology was sufficient to provide their own services was irrelevant. Forces in Afghanistan were operating in several island architectures, resulting in missed information or additional time to manually migrate data to another system to pass to higher or lower formations. As a result, military leaders were conducting command and control of forces in a piecemeal fashion, and ISAF struggled to gain a clear understanding of a very complex environment.

The AMN allows nations to operate their own network within the ISAF Secret classification, which seamlessly connects to the ISAF Secret Core through a series of network interconnect points. In addition, the AMN allows nations to keep their own tools and applications on their enclave while remaining interoperable with the entire ISAF theater.

The genesis of a common coalition network stemmed from an operational needs statement Gen. David D. McKiernan, USA, filed in November 2008, while serving as the ISAF commander. Work immediately began with efforts shared by U.S. Central Command, the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency, ISAF, the NATO Communication and Information Systems Services Agency, the NATO Consultation, Command and Control, Agency and a variety of other program managers, support agencies and coalition partner representatives.

Earlier this year, the AMN operational planning group met at the ISAF Joint Command headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, to plan the migration of all ISAF forces to the network. The group comprises five syndicates: functional area systems; network operations command and control; systems engineering; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems; and information assurance. As a result of the conference, the group outlined the migration strategy for the United States forces to move from the U.S. SIPRNET to CENTRIXS ISAF. It also established the governance and structures required for the effective management of the AMN, supplied a framework of standards for all entities to introduce their C5ISR systems into the AMN, and provided additional direction to support the implementation of the ISAF headquarters’ network policy.

Even as the migration to the AMN began, coalition troops in Afghanistan could see how the convergence of national networks was already beginning to bridge the gaps and allow for improved command and control for the commander. At the initial operational capability stage, minimal ad hoc interconnection points were established. National networks continue to be independent; however, the AMN has had a significant positive impact on operational effectiveness, selected data sharing, voice over Internet protocol, e-mail and global address lists, friendly force tracking and Web browsing.

At full operational capability, the AMN will be the primary C5ISR network for all ISAF forces and will replace national networks as the primary network at all levels. In addition, all information systems will be fully operational on the AMN and integrated AMN operations centers have been established.

Military leaders believe that the ongoing migration to one common classified network for all ISAF members is a watershed event that has never been achieved in the history of modern coalition operations. The AMN will change the execution of all future coalition operations, and the ability to share information and intelligence at every level is absolutely critical to counter-insurgency operations. The ISAF cannot be successful without this capability, they agree.

Lt. Col. Patricia S. Collins, USA, served as the ISAF knowledge management officer from June 2009 to April 2010.