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Technology Links East-West Forces

November 2000
By Maryann Lawlor
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Shared communications capabilities bolster unified efforts.

U.S. military forces on the Korean peninsula are mobilizing the power of technology to nurture a partnership that has been more than 50 years in the making. The unique nature of the Korean theater of operations has prompted the combined and joint commands in that area to fine-tune information systems to meet their distinct requirements.

Although the alliance between the United States and Korea seems small when compared to North Atlantic Treaty Organization partnerships, many of the same challenges exist. Obtaining a common operational picture, achieving interoperability, ensuring information security, and enabling cooperative command and control capabilities apply just as aptly in a relationship between two partners as it does in one that involves many.

U.S. Forces–Korea (USFK) and the Combined Forces Command are meeting these challenges by extending the use of technologies that are being employed in other theaters such as the global command and control system (GCCS) and videoconferencing. In addition, cognizant of a likely adversary being less dependent on technology than they are, the partners are paying close attention to the higher risk that information operations pose. U.S. and Republic of Korea (ROK) forces are training together to ensure readiness for the defense of the ROK against any external aggression.

While the GCCS is viewed as the primary command and control (C2) system in other theaters, the USFK has developed its own version of the system to meet its specific needs. Although approximately 200 core users access the GCCS for U.S.-only applications, the command’s adaptation, called the GCCS–Korea (GCCS-K), has more than 800 joint and combined users located across the peninsula.

According to Col. Steven J. Spano, USAF, assistant chief of staff, J-6, USFK, the GCCS-K is the alliance’s go-to-war C2 system. “It’s arguably the most complex and prolific C2 system in the world,” says the colonel, who is also the deputy assistant chief of staff, combined-6 (C-6).

Another vital component of the command’s technology arsenal is the theater secure video teleconferencing system-Korea (TSVS-K). The system supports multipoint videoconferencing to nearly 20 locations while simultaneously broadcasting C2 graphics in Hongul and English. The colonel is not aware of a comparable dual-language system.

ULCHI FOCUS LENS’00 (UFL ’00), an annual combined/joint exercise held this past summer, demonstrated the need for both systems as well as other capabilities. This headquarters exercise uses computer simulation to demonstrate U.S.-ROK interoperability, the Combined Forces Command’s capabilities, and the alliance’s commitment to defend Korea. It is designed to evaluate and improve combined and joint coordination, procedures, plans and systems that are required to conduct contingency operations of ROK and U.S. forces.

Approximately 56,000 ROK and 13,000 U.S. service members participated in UFL ’00. Most of the personnel are stationed in Korea; however, some took part in the exercise from their Pacific region and continental U.S. locations as response cells in support of the computer simulation. A small number of the U.S. forces deployed to Korea from Japan, Guam and the United States. The exercises did not include third country units.

“GCCS-K clearly emerged as the system of systems for our combined warfighters,” the colonel explains. “It is their main source for common operational picture and other critical information feeds. We successfully integrated and tested Spider, the ROK voice system, with the U.S. Army’s mobile subscriber equipment. We need to build on this success by working to exchange high-speed data on these systems. We also successfully tested the USFK’s TSVS-K system with one of the ROK video teleconferencing equipment suites. We will integrate the other ROK sites now that we have proved the systems are interoperable.”

Interoperability is a key issue in an alliance where two partners work so closely on a sustained basis. The command has made several strides in this area; however, it still faces a few challenges, Col. Spano says. While the rapid growth of the GCCS-K is viewed as an achievement, an enormous amount of the latent potential of many systems could be unleashed if breakthroughs could be made in multilevel security. For example, the U.S. military’s defense message system could be extended to the ROK counterparts, he explains.

Because he was intimately involved in defining information operations policy for the U.S. Defense Department, the colonel takes a special interest in information security. Although information warfare is a concern throughout the world for both the military and industry, the Korean theater of operations faces specific challenges. Nations that have the capabilities and rely more heavily on technology are more vulnerable. At the same time, this weakness cannot be exploited against an adversary whose military operations do not depend on electronic communications to an equal extent.

Unlike the use of weapons of mass destruction, which is a growing concern in the area, the level of sophistication required to mount a successful information attack is significantly low, and the weapons of information warfare are more accessible and affordable. The colonel believes that organization is the foundation of an effective information assurance (IA) program.

“We have yet to establish common standards of protection that are applied uniformly across the command. As such, some components are far ahead of others. The danger in an inter-networked environment is that those components investing in IA capabilities assume a degree of risk from networks that are less protected. In essence, the strength of an IA program boils down to the least protected enclave attached to the network. We need to reverse this by building up to one common standard,” Col. Spano relates.

To achieve this goal, the USFK is leading the information assurance triad, a group that consists of key representatives from the command’s intelligence (J-2) and operations (J-3) sectors. The team will identify requirements across the board, including education, training and awareness, policy, IA tools, and tactics, techniques and procedures. It will develop these requirements in collaboration with all of the USFK components and plug into the J-3’s information operations cell where operational integration occurs.

“We recently staffed the first comprehensive joint IA policy [group] and hope to have that complete by late fall. This policy will provide uniform standards and guidance across the command,” the colonel offers.

This effort is part of the command’s preparation for the release of the U.S. Defense Department’s information conditions (INFOCONs) strategy, an alerting mechanism to increase security vigilance in response to known or suspected information system intrusions. The approach is analogous to the traditional defense conditions, or DEFCON, process.

USFK INFOCON comprises five levels   that appropriate and uniform actions are taken to increase or decrease the defense position of a command against computer network attacks. It also aims at mitigating sustained damage to the USFK information infrastructure, including computer and telecommunications networks and systems.

“We are preparing to restaff our INFOCONs in the continued drive to enhance our defensive posture, while raising awareness to the threats and vulnerabilities. As with all other commands, our top challenge is balancing limited resources to ensure we have the hardware and software technology to protect our information and defend our information systems,” Col. Spano explains.

To raise the awareness of the weaknesses in their information systems, the command is adding various information attack scenarios in applicable exercises. This approach not only brings to light the vulnerabilities of systems but also helps identify shortfalls that can be addressed either internally or in the requirements process.

“Information as a strategic commodity is a classic dialectic in that the advantage constantly shifts to the side most determined to invest the necessary resources to gain the edge. We may gain an advantage over our adversaries, but it won’t last long unless we continue a steady investment in the technology and training,” Col. Spano offers.

Information assurance must be extended from the U.S. joint community to the alliances and coalitions that the United States forms. This end-to-end security will occur only if appropriate policy and training is in place. “The best dollar spent is still in training all personnel including systems administrators. It’s not just about throwing money at technology. We can have very sophisticated intrusion detection technology, but if personnel aren’t trained to respond appropriately when intrusions are detected, then it’s useless,” the colonel maintains.

Staffing and training are high on the colonel’s priority list, and in this area the command faces two related challenges. As is the situation in all of the services, recruiting and retaining quality information technology specialists continues to be an obstacle that the USFK must overcome. At the same time, the rotation cycle at the USFK is short—typically one year.

Both the commercial and military sectors are having difficulty locating qualified personnel fast enough to meet the demand. As a result, both are competing for a limited number of technicians, Col. Spano observes. “If trends in information technology continue anywhere near the pace they are now, in the future we may see shortfalls in the amount of qualified personnel in information-related areas surpass shortfalls in areas such as strategic airlift. Perhaps we should begin assessing the feasibility and practicality of a Civil Reserve Information Fleet analogous to the current Civil Reserve Air Fleet,” the colonel suggests.

The recruiting and retention problem is compounded in the Korean theater where many personnel are transferred to a new duty station just as they are getting comfortable in their jobs. Strong training programs and incentives to encourage tour extensions are two possible solutions to this dilemma, he says.

While these challenges are being addressed, the command is looking at emerging technologies to continue fortifying the U.S.-ROK cooperative relationship. As the global information grid matures, the global broadcast system (GBS) and Internet protocol (IP) video are two promising capabilities that will continue to provide access to timely, accurate and relevant weather and intelligence information as well as support real-time collaborative planning capabilities, the colonel says. Although the command has encountered some unexpected challenges in fielding the GBS, mostly in terms of timelines and integration into overall operations, once fully in place, the system will have an immediate and significant impact on missions. In addition, technologies that replace manual alternate routing with dynamic and instant alternate routing should be pursued, Col. Spano allows.

The collaborative planning capability of IP video will enhance future planning and warfighting; however, the military needs to move as cautiously as industry on this technology, the colonel adds.

“A standard may be emerging, but it has yet to be fully embraced by industry. This is one technology we should feel comfortable following from close behind. Another reason we should be cautious is that we first need to identify the information flow throughout the various phases of an operation or the levels of conflict. Bandwidth apportionment may be required to support this capability, or it simply may require accompanying increases in bandwidth either through advances in compression techniques or costly expansion of existing bandwidth pipes. We should address this requirement jointly across all commands and move out in unison,” he suggests.

The consolidated wide area network (CWAN) is one of the command’s efforts that would support this unified approach (SIGNAL, May, page 29). The goal is to integrate command, control, communications and computers (C4) and intelligence (I) into one seamless network that would provide warfighters with instant plug-and-play access to information. “C4 and ‘I’ have matured along two separate paths for far too long, and in pursuit of meeting operational needs, we may have sacrificed efficiency and the plug-and-play access warfighters need. I think it also may be the reason multilevel security has been so elusive. We need to separate the systems from the networks and build one secure, robust transport system with dynamic alternate-routing capability and multiple access points,” Col. Spano points out.

These capabilities reinforce the colonel’s call for strong information security. "Presently, our CJCCC [combined joint C4I coordination center] can only support exercises and crises with out-of-hide resources. Achieving C4I situational awareness requires capabilities that can continually assess the health of our theater networks, monitor and disseminate INFOCONs and computer emergency response team advisories, and ensure the continuity needed during the transition to war," he concludes.