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Pacific Command Builds Electronic Bridges

November 2000
By Maryann Lawlor
E-mail About the Author

Despite its vastness, when it comes to cyberspace, it is a small world after all.

The U.S. Pacific Command is cultivating a variety of technological tools that would bring coalition partners into permanent wide area networks and support the numerous partnerships in the vast region. Enhanced connectivity within the U.S. military forces and improved links for foreign nations will support the United States’ primary mission in the Asia-Pacific region—ensuring security in an area of the world that continues to build up its armaments.

Because the region does not have the benefit of an umbrella organization such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, relationships with other countries are, by default, bilateral. The U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii, is examining improvements to videoconferencing, systems management and information assurance while at the same time exploring what commercial technologies have to offer.

PACOM has already worked closely with coalition partners in operations such as East Timor as well as humanitarian and disaster relief efforts. Although these circumstances impose some very sensitive connectivity and information sharing issues, the command is pressing forward with technologies that will allow nations to network more easily.

With an area of responsibility that comprises approximately 105 million square miles, nearly 60 percent of Earth’s population and the six largest armed forces in the world, the command is examining systems that could make communications faster, simpler and more secure.

Security currently is viewed as the foundation of stability in this region where five of the seven worldwide U.S. mutual defense treaties are in place. To construct this foundation, PACOM has adopted a strategy that features six elements. U.S. military forces must be credible, combat capable, trained, and ready to fight and win. Critical capabilities must be stationed in forward positions. Positive security relationships must be in place with all nations in the region. The United States must continue its long-term commitment to the area and promote long-term solutions to problems that arise. The military in the area must work in unison in various activities with other U.S. government agencies such as the State and Commerce departments. Finally, the command must react to regional events with measured responses.

The ability to share information easily and in a secure environment within the joint community as well as with other nations is the cement that holds these building blocks together.

According to Brig. Gen. (Sel.) Janet A. Hicks, USA, special assistant to the deputy commander in chief for command, control, communications and computer systems, PACOM, tools recently incorporated into the command are helping it meet these strategic goals. Technologies under examination for future use will better address tactical requirements.

“We’re looking for effective ways to bring our coalition partners into a more permanent coalition wide area network [CWAN]. Also, almost 30 AOR [area of responsibility] countries participate in the Asia Pacific area network [APAN], a PACOM [World Wide] Web-based initiative that reaches out via the Internet to all of the countries in the AOR and provides them with a link into our virtual information center,” the general offers.

CWAN is an effective facilitator of good relationships because it enables speedy communications between coalition partners in the theater of operations. This capability supports the command’s engagement goals and fosters a strong spirit of cooperation, she says.

The general believes the APAN has successfully supported open communications. “It’s an unclassified coalition information sharing system, and as communicators, our best means of ‘engagement’ is via a network that is open to all theater partners. Further, we continue to work hard on classified coalition interoperability with the JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff], though that’s a much tougher road because we want to connect with the U.S. systems like SIPRNET [secret Internet protocol router network],” Gen. Hicks points out.

Facilitating communications with other nations is not PACOM’s only goal. The command also is involved in programs that are designed to improve networking between U.S. organizations.

The Pacific mobile emergency radio system (PACMERS) is a land mobile radio system that PACOM is presently putting into place for Alaska and Hawaii. The military services partnered on this project to ensure interoperability, and the command is now working with state and municipal organizations so that it will eventually be able to interface with these agencies.

Connectivity also is an issue for command and control communications. The goal is to get the right information to the right place and the right person in the right format, including tools for collaboration and visualization.

“One area in which we’re going to do some digging is the interface of tactical systems into our strategic systems. We’ve recently exercised this capability and found it to be very difficult. Some weaknesses can be overcome by planning and procedures, but inherent in the tactical-to-strategic interface is the lesser capability of the disadvantaged, that is tactical, user. There’s just so much power that can be pushed through the smaller satellite dishes, for example, and increasing the size of the antenna to increase the power output has an operational impact on footprint and lift requirements. There are many trade-offs, and achieving the right balance is the goal,” Gen. Hicks says.

The command is examining a multitude of emerging technologies under its Commander in Chief 21 Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (CINC 21 ACTD) initiative. The program’s objective is to provide better visualization, decision support, collaboration and knowledge management tools to the warfighter.

Under the program, PACOM is exploring commercial standards and applications in one demonstration called Extending the Littoral Battlespace. Commercial wireless protocols and applications are being examined to fully integrate command and control, calls for fire and targeting for expeditionary warfare.

Last year, Adm. Dennis C. Blair, USN, commander in chief, PACOM, indicated that the command was gaining more confidence in commercial systems; however, he called for the formation of strict guidelines to determine the dividing line between military-specific and commercially available systems (SIGNAL, November 1999, page 16). Several initiatives, including the CINC 21 ACTD and the U.S. Navy/Marine Corps intranet, are addressing this issue, Gen. Hicks says.

PACOM also participated as a primary site for this year’s Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration (JWID), one of the joint community’s largest cooperative events. The command would like to increase its participation in future JWIDs, possibly hosting the next event in 2002. Efforts such as these are an excellent means to put new technology through its paces, the general says.

Space-based assets, which were the focus of JWID 2000, are of particular interest to a command that must communicate in an area that includes two oceans as well as land masses with mountainous terrain and sometimes little or no terrestrial communications infrastructure.

To address the challenges these conditions create, the general would like to see the modernization of all of the command’s component satellite communications (SATCOM) terminals for commercial, military satellite and demand access multiple assigned operations. In addition, leasing commercial SATCOMs for ongoing peacetime operations while reserving military SATCOMs for additional training and wartime surge capability would be beneficial, she says.

Another technology that enhances communications in an area of responsibility as large as the Asia-Pacific region is videoconferencing. Although the quality and reliability of the technology to deployed forces is not where the command wants or needs it to be, it is improving, and the general believes that virtual face-to-face exchange is now the commanders’ method of choice for communicating their intent. “Misunderstandings are resolved right away, and everyone has the same game plan,” she points out.

Although all of these communications tools are extremely useful to PACOM, Gen. Hicks says that what is now required are technologies that can help manage them more effectively, especially at the command level. Improved network monitoring and management tools are needed to help coordinate the numerous capabilities currently in place and those on the horizon.

“With such rapid changes in technology, ‘the latest’ on Tuesday can be ‘old news’ on Wednesday,” she notes. “The challenge is to get solutions identified, funded and fielded before the technology is obsolete.

“We must also remain interoperable with partners who may not be moving at the same pace or to the same technological solution, so legacy issues are very important,” the general states. Command, control, communications and computer (C4) systems synchronization and modernization are perhaps PACOM’s biggest challenges, she adds.

The command already has taken some first steps toward addressing these issues. It has hired a deputy corporate information officer who is charged with promoting improvements in work processes, developing and implementing an integrated technology architecture, and managing information resources. “This is a new emphasis for PACOM and will bear fruit across the enterprise,” Gen. Hicks says.

PACOM also is designing a C4 systems synchronization plan online database to provide information on in-theater systems and the fielding schedules of new systems to command members. This initiative focuses on end-to-end C4 capabilities and systems relationships as they apply to the global information grid (GIG) framework.

The general believes there is still a need for more information management and assurance tools. “The GIG is a reality. An event in one portion of the GIG affects us all. Bandwidth on demand and dynamic reallocation are very effective management tools, but can, in some instances, make our job harder. An outage in one portion of the network can trigger a cascade effect as switches pre-empt lower priority users in an effort to reconnect higher priority users,” Gen. Hicks relates.

Although the command has a very aggressive information security program, this is an area that requires constant vigilance, she points out. Complete situational awareness is as important in cyberspace as it is in a traditional battlespace. “All too often our analysis of network attacks is conducted after the fact. A post-mortem analysis can be a useful learning tool and may eventually provide a means of defense, but to be proactive in our defensive posture, we need to see the attack as it happens. We’d rather have on-the-spot corrections and dynamic defense in-depth than 20/20 hindsight. Our challenge is to detect an attack during the very early stages—seconds or even milliseconds into it—and form a viable defense that ensures network survivability,” she asserts.

Although she has been impressed by many of the individual technologies that industry has been developing, Gen. Hicks would like to see companies propose solutions that take an enterprisewide approach. For example, some of the demonstrations at JWID could be effective at the base, post, camp and station level but are not scalable to the regional or theater level. The command’s large area of responsibility requires systems that can be employed across service boundaries on a large scale.

Increasing bandwidth and using currently available bandwidth more efficiently also are challenges PACOM faces. For example, the existing standardized tactical entry point (STEP) sites support only defense satellite communications system X-band operations. The U.S. Defense Department’s proposed teleport system will replace the STEP sites and become a media junction for space and terrestrial systems. Teleport will expand support to other frequency bands, increasing the command’s availability, the general explains.