Communications in Afghanistan

July 12, 2012
By Rita Boland

Unless the U.S. military starts moving toward a cloud and consolidates services, it never will place a network in the field. Brig. Gen. Lawrence Wayne Brock III, USAR, deputy commanding general, 335th Signal Command (Theater), made that statement during his discussion about successes, challenges and the way ahead for in-theater communications at TechNet Land Forces South in Tampa, Florida.

After more than a decade of war, the U.S. Army's signal soldiers are adapting practices to move services closer to the ideal rather than the on-the-wing style necessary at the start of operations in Afghanistan. Gen. Brock touted the Afghan Mission Network (AMN) as a great success. "We built the AMN correctly the first time," he stated. Once a high-level commander demanded a network that enabled him to communicate with other mission partners as a critical tool, signal personnel were able to put into place the necessary capabilities. Signal soldiers also have succeeded in reducing black out times in theater.

One of the challenges during the first deployments into Afghanistan was the lack of correct training for signal personnel. Schoolhouses are beginning to adjust programs to fill those knowledge gaps. In addition, the Army has an improved understanding of necessary military occupational specialties with a focus on those that train soldiers in specific technical skill sets.

Gen. Brock said an ongoing challenge is making equipment available to lower levels of the force. The Army's Network Integration Evaluations are moving the service closer to that objective, but the service still has procurement issues to resolve. Gen. Brock stated that the Army and the military overall better understand now the need for equipment to work before deploying overseas.

Future challenges include learning to network correctly with coalition and alliance partners; developing coalition standards in the face of scenarios with different coalition members; working with nontraditional coalition partners; and facing issues with equipment interoperability when partners adopt technology at different rates. Gen. Brock stated his confidence in the military's ability to find a robust, flexible network that can support commanders. Though troops have more work to do before finding the correct solution, they understand the requirements, he stated.

In at least one case, signalers' success has created a new challenge. During the years of war in Afghanistan, communications personnel have installed robust capabilities. Now they must help commanders at all levels understand that such technologies are not available in all locations where troops might have to operate.

One day the military will deploy a wireless network in the field, but Gen. Brock said such a move is not in the near or foreseeable future. A major road block is determining how to secure those networks correctly. Gen. Brock highlighted the role of private industry in fulfilling necessary requirements at a quick pace. "We've only been able to move at the speed of contracting," he stated.

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