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Building a New Backbone

August 2001
By Henry S. Kenyon

U.S. military bases are increasing network bandwidth, communications capabilities.

The U.S. Army is modernizing the command and control infrastructure of its major facilities in the United States, Europe and Asia. Once complete, the new system will allow enhanced reach-back capabilities among front-line forces, sustaining bases, national and theater command assets.

As the Army moves toward its long-term goal of a light, fully digitized, highly mobile force, the service also must sustain and recapitalize existing technologies and systems. While much emphasis has been placed on the new wireless devices warfighters will carry in the field, major command headquarters both in the continental United States and in global military regions must have adequate equipment to track and command far-flung operations.

Transforming the Army’s strategic infrastructure is one facet of a major change the service is undergoing. According to Brig. Gen. Michael R. Mazzucchi, USA, program executive officer for the Army’s Communications-Electronics Command’s (CECOM’s) command, control and communications systems, the strategic transformation is a systematic, global program to modernize the service’s primary command and control infrastructure. He notes that the initiative covers the range between tactical-level forces, support and enabling units. “If you’re going to modernize and provide situational awareness to forces in the field, you ought to provide that capability to the commanders in chief (CINCs), commanders, and headquarters staff that provide command and control to these joint tactical forces. You can’t have a 21st century Army with a World War II era infrastructure,” he says.

The transformation itself is not about deploying a single platform, but creating a system of systems, the general says. To achieve this, CECOM is responsible for upgrading the entire information infrastructure portion of the Pentagon renovation project and all Army installations through the installation information infrastructure modernization program (I3MP).

The strategic transformation was officially launched in October 1999 as a part of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki’s call for fundamental changes in the service’s force structure and warfighting doctrine. As part of this effort, the I3MP is designed to assess the state of information infrastructures at Army installations and to implement a robust, modernized solution tailored to each facility’s needs. With funding assured though 2007 to expedite communications network improvements, I3MP lays the necessary foundations for supporting bases to link to contingency operations, deployed forces and split-base operations.

The transformation also enhances reach-back capabilities for seamless connectivity from foxhole to supporting base. Upgraded installations can support a variety of functions such as standard Army information systems applications, the Army Distance Learning Program, total asset visibility, just-in-time logistics, teleconferencing, telemedicine, and all aspects of the defense reform initiative such as knowledge management, multimedia applications and business process re-engineering.

The earliest and still ongoing project is the Pentagon renovation, an effort involving all U.S. Defense Department agencies. Gen. Mazzucchi notes that because work on the Pentagon was already underway when the strategic transformation was launched, it quickly became a focus of the program. Work was recently completed on Wedge One—the first slice of the pie into which the project managers divided the building. The general believes that while the renovation work has been extremely successful, it also presents a major logistical challenge beyond upgrading hardware. Several thousand people had to be moved into temporary office space and provided with up-to-date communications and network compatibility while a similar infrastructure was installed in the Pentagon, he says.

Beyond the Pentagon, the service has been actively upgrading its posts, camps and stations. Contracting teams have been moving through all of these facilities and installing modern information technology equipment into them. Army power projection facilities such as Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, already have been modernized, he says. Four teams of contractors are conducting the renovation work. They compete for each facility based on an acquisition strategy designed to allow private industry to bid on the work.

A number of initiatives are underway within the strategic transformation to enhance facilities and assist the I3MP. Gen. Mazzucchi notes that the Army is upgrading its European communications backbone in Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom. A part of this project is the installation of 153-megabit-per-second data radios in the service’s European facilities. Similar work is underway at U.S. Army bases in Korea. This backbone work is being synchronized so that the same technology package will go into the current, interim and objective forces, the general explains.

Another group involved in the strategic transformation is the Command Center Upgrade Special Projects Office (CCU-SPO), which supports the CINCs. The office assisted the CINC Southern Command when it moved from Panama to Miami by providing full communications and video capabilities.

The organization also supports coalition partners such as the Romanian Ministry of Defense. The CCU-SPO built an education hall to train the Romanian officer and noncommissioned officer corps. “We talk coalition. Here’s an example of a project manager who supports our CINCs and coalition partners,” Gen. Mazzucchi says.

Various departments within CECOM are involved in all aspects of the strategic transformation. The general notes that the Systems Management Center is tied into the revolution in military logistics—a wholesale modernization program designed to completely transform the Army’s supply chain. Many old components and software systems are being replaced with sustainable modern systems bought from or designed by the private sector as part of the initiative. He adds that the command’s research and development center is working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop new technologies to support Army modernization.

While the transformation is underway, Gen. Mazzucchi notes that the Army will have to support what amounts to three armies: the current force and the interim and objective forces. Depot facilities such as Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania, will continue to play a key role. The general notes that even with new technologies entering service, some weapons systems will continue to see service for many years to come. “We’re going to have Abrams tanks and Bradley infantry fighting vehicles for the next 20 years,” he says. These forces will continue to need maintenance and support. Tobyhanna also supports the interim force and interim brigade combat teams.

Although an overall timetable exists for the strategic transformation, it is flexible and allows project managers to run their programs on their own specific schedules. For example, the Pentagon transformation is operating on a timetable that best fits the site operation. The general adds that some project managers are not as closely tied to the Army transformation plan because their timetables follow Defense Department schedules. He notes that the Army began upgrading its facilities several years before there was a formal transformation program. For example, Fort Bragg was fully modernized in 1996.

The transformation also determines how Army units and facilities are modernized. When whole units are upgraded, they are now given an entire equipment package, Gen. Mazzucchi explains. Previously, when unit set fielding took place, entire sections of a unit could be out of action until the new components had been installed and integrated, which was very inefficient. When unit set fieldings now take place, all of the necessary pieces of equipment and training are provided at once to maintain readiness, he says.

This activity is also tied into the I3MP program, where it is referred to as synchronization. Much like equipping a unit, synchronization calls for an installation’s communications systems architecture to be assessed and upgraded simultaneously. The methodology allows for the economic use of resources, execution and planning while causing the least disruption to the facility. The Army also has established an installation sequence of 122 sites with those that require the most extensive work receiving priority status.

As part of the overall hardware renovation, the Army is installing gigabit Ethernet connections into many of its facilities. Gen. Mazzucchi notes that this has two great advantages: It allows transmission control protocol/Internet protocol use throughout a facility, and it requires less hardware and fewer connections. The gigabit connections allow 10 megabits of bandwidth to every single user in an installation rather than dividing it among numerous individuals. This represents an increase of 84.5 percent capability over asynchronous transfer mode technology, he says. The Army facility upgrades also are conducted in blocks, allowing needed infrastructure to be installed immediately while deferring the deployment of cutting-edge devices.

Last-mile issues also continue to pose a challenge for the transformation teams. Gen. Mazzucchi notes that the most challenging area is the last 300 feet inside a building. One possible solution is to transmit data at 13 megabytes per second on twisted-pair copper cable. This would save money because it could make use of existing base infrastructure. However, while the twisted pair approach has potential, the general cautions that it has not yet been tested or certified. The Army also is looking at wireless local area network applications. But this technology also has some drawbacks, specifically with bandwidth and cryptographic requirements. For now, landlines must be used for secure messaging, he says.

One of the lessons the service has learned from the modernization process is how to deal with change, Gen. Mazzucchi says. The Army has changed its staffing procedures for high-ranking officers in order to implement the transformation, he says. This top-down change influenced staffing for all program executive officers and deputies for systems acquisition involved in the process, he says.

Synchronization matrices were developed to track and implement infrastructure changes. These ensure that the right equipment is shipped and the right suites are installed and upgraded.

Training matrices also had to be created to track each soldier’s occupational requirements. The general notes that some soldiers with technical specialties must attend up to 20 different classes to get their specialization ranking. The use of matrices for tracking personnel and equipment is now a part of the way the Army does business, he adds.

Gen. Mazzucchi believes that by 2003 the final shape of the system of systems will be decided. Contract awards will then follow within two years. At that point, the majority of DARPA’s work on the program will shift from technology-based research to an acquisition phase, which should be in full swing by 2008, he says.