British Communicators Consolidate Assets, Efforts

September 2005
By Robert K. Ackerman
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A Royal Air Force Tornado drops flares during combat operations in Iraq. The United Kingdom’s Defence Communication Services Agency, or DCSA, provides communications connectivity down to the warfighter level.
A single all-encompassing defense agency leads the way to a single all-encompassing infrastructure.

A seven-year-old British military communications agency is bringing both its primary networks and its organizational activities under one umbrella architecture that, if successful, will be able to provide and support defense communications down to the warfighter level. The Defence Communication Services Agency, or DCSA, is working with commercial technology providers and customers in the field to construct an information infrastructure that links all military users while also incorporating new technologies as they come online.

Many of the DCSA’s challenges mirror those facing its U.S. ally. The agency is striving to implement new technologies and architectures incrementally. But, it also must ensure that active, though older, systems and technologies perform as needed until the newer systems are in place. And, it must factor coalition interoperability into planning and implementation.

But the DCSA is counting on its one-stop shopping approach to avoid compatibility and complexity problems that historically have plagued military communications systems worldwide since the development of battlefield radios. The agency spends £1.2 billion ($2.1 billion) annually delivering services ranging from fixed and mobile telephony to satellite links.

“This agency has huge potential to help deliver the enabling piece of network-enable capability,” says its chief executive, Rear Adm. Rees G.J. Ward, RN, CB MA MSc C.Eng FIEE. “With all of the major CIS [communications and information systems] components being brought together within the agency, I am able to produce corporate muscle that will make what we buy much more efficient in the way we buy it, will release funds that can go into the front line and also will deliver huge effectiveness.”

Adm. Ward offers that the DCSA, founded in 1998, draws from many features of its older U.S. counterpart, the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). Both agencies undertake acquisition—DISA through the component acquisition executive and the DCSA through its integrated product teams. Both perform service planning and management as well as service delivery, although the U.S. agency places a greater emphasis on that activity. The two agencies also maintain engineering expertise, with the DCSA using it to   bolster its “smart customer” role. And, like its U.S. counterpart, the DCSA provides in-theater support to J-6 staff worldwide.

However, Adm. Ward offers that one area in which the DCSA differs from DISA is that the British agency works to provide connectivity past the post gate down to the individual warfighter. “DCSA has a wider scope, particularly in operations,” he explains. “We go all the way into the camp, and we are responsible for end-to-end assurance of information flow.” He describes his agency’s assurance role, which is carried out through its Joint Services Security Center, as similar to that of the U.S. Joint Task Force–Global Network Operations. The DCSA does not possess an equivalent of U.S. signal brigades to support operations. But it does have the information delivery responsibility under a single umbrella, and this permits integrating applications into the infrastructure more easily.

Meeting the challenge of the last mile of connectivity presents issues similar to those in the United States, the admiral notes. Part of the last-mile challenge is to ensure that the necessary handshaking mechanisms for guaranteeing quality of service are in place as information moves into the operational commander’s arena. The DCSA largely is focusing on the land component, as the maritime component faces a different set of issues with a different degree of severity.

The DCSA’s responsibilities include ensuring proper training of operational users and ensuring the availability—and proper function—of the equipment that they will be using. “When I look at the last mile in an operationally deployed sense,” Adm. Ward explains, “I am really looking at just how far my border goes forward into the operational space and making sure that interface for the transmission of information is seamless.” The agency has good relationships with operators on the ground and with the permanent joint headquarters, which has just transferred a large amount of CIS systems, capabilities and staff into the agency, the admiral says.

“The bottom line is to ensure that, at the interface points, we understand exactly what we’re doing on either side and that we have agreements on what our responsibilities are to each other,” he states. “If we get that right, then I can discharge my mission—which is the assurance of information flow end-to-end.”

Several systems loom large in the DCSA’s collection of communications elements. The admiral cites the Defence Information Infrastructure, or DII, as a huge program that will bring all 330,000 users in the Ministry of Defence under a single infrastructure. More than 300 separate systems will be reduced to one over about four years, and new DII applications will generate business change for some time to come. The disruption that could result from that changeover is a cause for concern, Adm. Ward admits. Virtually everyone in the Ministry of Defence will be taking part in the program one way or another.

The agency recently has contracted for the first DII increment, which largely will focus on fixed space implementation. Later increments will add to the fixed space and focus on deployed forces.

The Bowman tactical communications program (SIGNAL, November 2004, page 29) is vital for deployed forces. Many of the battlefield radios that it is replacing were designed in the 1970s, the admiral observes. Bowman is introducing versatile data-compatible network radios for the infantry, in combat vehicles and in navy and air force platforms.

The agency recently signed a five-year extension of its Defence Fixed Telecommunications System (DFTS) services public private partnership (PPP) contract with BT plc. This £1.5 billion ($2.6 billion) extension brings the total contract value to £3 billion ($5.2 billion). The original DFTS contract is seven years into its original 10-year private finance initiative (PFI). The extension will carry the contract, which was one of the British government’s first PFIs, to July 2012. The extension takes into account new technologies and services and should save the British taxpayer about £15 million ($26 million) each year, according to the Ministry of Defence.

Adm. Ward notes that this extension will contribute to BT’s 21st century architecture. The telecommunications giant is installing a new common core platform on which the ministry will be placing its services. This platform also will be installed to integrate future advanced technologies.

The agency has a wide-ranging wish list of requirements and needed technologies. Enterprise network management tools are vital for the agency to manage its network of networks. Adm. Ward cites the desire to stay ahead of network problems before faults impinge on operational capability.

Dynamic CIS modeling tools are needed to help plan out-of-area operations and to deliver solutions. “How do we characterize the behavior of a new application on a network?” the admiral queries. “How do we dynamically model that or new sensor inputs into the network? What capacities do we need; where are the choke points; where are the bottlenecks? These kinds of modeling tools will be really vital to us for ensuring that our networks stay up and are timely and responsive,” he declares.

A related need involves knowledge management tools. With its burgeoning networks, the agency must be able to exploit its information and make it work better for British forces.

Service oriented architectures are appearing, and the agency must be able to connect various new equipment and bespoke applications. The admiral explains that the DCSA must be able to use middleware that does not hold either the equipment or the application hostage.

A British Royal Marine watches for enemy vehicles during an exercise. That individual soon may be able to access the same types of information previously available to higher level decision makers.
And, as always, effective cryptology is needed. The admiral wants networks that are “simple and secure,” and he cites the desire for “the Holy Grail of a secure, IP [Internet protocol]-based network that integrates multiple levels of security on a common transport system providing integrated voice, video and data. This trips very easily off the tongue, but you only are going to be able to do that if you really do have the cryptology side down pat,” he says. Cryptology and accreditation, along with the ability to stay in the forefront of the technology, are high on the agency’s wish list. Public key infrastructure (PKI) is another technology that will help provide verification and data integrity.

A key emerging technology is IPv.6. This next generation of Internet protocols will enable both interoperability with U.S. forces and greater bandwidth. Addressing and capacity will see substantial improvements. British forces are aiming to become more Web-enabled, the admiral offers, but this effort is accompanied by bandwidth issues. The United States is investing large sums of money in this area, but the United Kingdom may not be able to embrace Web-enabled operations as fully as has the United States. “Yes, we want to be Web-based,” Adm. Ward declares, adding, “We just need to be careful how much pull we are going to set ourselves up for and how we are going to do that.”

Mobile technologies offer much promise. Adm. Ward says that the onrush of new commercial technologies is feeding “a huge appetite for them in military life.” To adapt them to military use will require ensuring that information stays secure over these new wireless systems.

“All of these types of technologies will make a huge difference in the way DCSA accomplishes its mission,” Adm. Ward states.

As expected, the commercial sector will play a key role in enabling the DCSA to solve its problems and carry out its mission. Adm. Ward relates that the agency is undertaking a significant move to provide service rapidly, and the agency is developing long-term PFI/PPP contracts for this effort. The admiral adds that he wants the agency’s commercial partners to be working with each other across the boundaries of those service contracts. This will help solve integration problems to the benefit of the customer—the DCSA.

“Exploitation of information is the name of the game,” he emphasizes. “How do we present that information; how do we publish and subscribe; how do we do that within the particular limitations of capacity that we have at the moment.”

The agency faces a number of challenges as it and its 5,500 personnel gird for the future. The work to improve CIS defensewide continues as the agency looks to add another 1,300 people to the current total. Then, after ongoing programs are delivered, this number will be reduced by more than 2,000 people. These personnel changes must be managed carefully to avoid disruption both in the organization and in the people’s lives.

Improving customer access to agency specializations is another focal point. To improve service to the customer, the agency is striving to make it as easy as possible for the field customer to interface with the DCSA. A single point of contact that can answer for the agency and understand what the customer needs—and can ensure that the agency responds to the customer—is a priority, the admiral allows. Work is ongoing to achieve that goal, he adds.

The agency’s efforts to implement the DII encompass compatibility between legacy systems and the modernized infrastructure. While the admiral warrants that the agency will not be investing in any “ancient infrastructure” systems, it nonetheless must continue to maintain services from legacy systems until they are replaced. Some of these systems may not be replaced until the second or third increment of DII implementation.

The issue of interoperability looms large as the United Kingdom faces a military future comprising coalition operations. “The absolute need to share information at the appropriate security level is a no-brainer,” Adm. Ward declares. “This works at the policy level between the Pentagon and the Ministry of Defence headquarters in London, and it works at the standards and procedures level, the way systems are designed,” he observes.

The DCSA largely focuses on implementation of standards established to ensure interoperability. The British agency maintains “very regular” contact with DISA, the admiral relates. Both agencies use similar tools, including the U.S. Defense Department’s operational network planning tool NETWARS for modeling scenarios and solutions. This common approach ensures that solutions to those types of problems will be recognized on both sides of the Atlantic.

Adm. Ward cited the desirability of lining up test centers. This will permit easier exchange of information and understanding. An asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) network recently was established to link U.S., British and NATO forces, and this will help interoperability testing. Annual events such as the Coalition Warrior Interoperability Demonstration, or CWID (see page 71), also help further interoperability. British forces bring new equipment to these multinational exercises to test the gear in a coalition environment.

Still, the biggest stumbling block to achieving interoperability remains classification of material, the admiral says. How forces deal with that issue in the operational space and in the tactical space may hold the key to coalition interoperability.

The Iraq War reinforced the need for “a robust, capable, flexible information infrastructure end-to-end from [Ministry of Defence headquarters at] Whitehall through the permanent joint headquarters out into theater,” the admiral posits. British forces deployed a number of systems that were assembled to fulfill needs rapidly. The result was that some areas worked through patchwork solutions, and this caused some integration difficulties when those systems were linked. “We know where we need to get better, and next time we will be in a much better position” at the equipment level, the admiral states.

Another useful development would be the establishment of a single lead for CIS at the strategy level. Having a single customer community and a single planning and programming community that look across the wide range of CIS projects and programs would help establish priorities and synchronize delivery of the programs, the admiral suggests.


Web Resources
U.K. Ministry of Defence, Defence Procurement Agency:
Bowman Project:

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