Korea Theater Command And Control Enhancements Support Decisive Actions

November 2006
By Col. Harry H. Blanke III, USAF

A U.S. Forces Korea operator electronically draws out schemes of maneuver using SMART Technologies software.
Building tensions in the region accentuate the need for common operational picture.

Command and control systems used by the U.S. Republic of Korea Combined Forces Command, the 15-member United Nations Command in Korea and U.S. Forces Korea have transformed significantly over the past two years. These improvements in the region were made a priority by the former commander of U.S. Forces Korea, Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, USA, and they received first priority for funding. The current commander, Gen. Burwell B. Bell, USA, is placing similar emphasis on the three commands’ command and control arrangements, processes and systems to ensure that the U.S., Republic of Korea and allied response to a crisis would be decisive—and, in the event of war, war-winning.

The arms standoff between Kim Jong-Il’s North Korean government and the international community is focusing attention on the status of command and control (C2) in the Korean Theater of Operations (KTO). Talks involving North Korea, the United States, the Republic of Korea (ROK), Japan, China and Russia have stalled. In July, North Korea tested its two-stage Taepo-Dong-2 missile and in October set off a nuclear device. The result has been tougher U.N., U.S. and Japanese sanctions, with reciprocal North Korean belligerence. 

Modern C2 affects the United States’ ability to respond to the changing situation with North Korea. All elements of U.S. national power, including diplomatic, information, military and economic, are being brought to bear on this matter. However, to make these elements relevant, the military must supply timely intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance as well as provide reliable communications networks. 

Recently, U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) leaders developed a situational awareness and understanding framework enabled by a shared high-resolution common operational picture (COP). Millions of dollars were spent on high-resolution situational displays. Video or knowledge walls, and the demand for them, quickly outpaced the dollars set aside for C2 systems. The command touts some 30 knowledge-wall displays that provide component and key commanders with the same COP.

The need continues for a high-resolution COP capability that can locate thousands of units’ positions accurately in near real time, zoom in to a picture a few miles wide or zoom out to see the entire theater and ensure that the map coordinates for a particular waypoint are the same at each shared location using the Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System–Korea, or CENTRIXS-K. However, newer technology is affording the command ways to achieve the same vision in a budget-constrained environment with fewer resources while improving other critical capabilities.

Gen. Bell set new goals for achieving real-time situational awareness at lower echelons to improve parallel planning.  Command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) enhancements have been made over the past year, but others will be in the making for the next several years.

Four key C2 capability improvements have occurred in the past year. First, the combined command need for a shared Naval COP is being fulfilled through the sharing of U.S. Navy Link-14 data with the Korean Naval Tactical Data System, or KNTDS. An initial operational capability KNTDS picture was demonstrated during exercise Ulchi Focus Lens in 2005, but it was not integrated into the coalition COP. However, after the USFK/J-6 staff collaborated with the Joint Staff J-6 and the DISN Security Accreditation Working Group (DSAWG) in January 2006, KNTDS was integrated into the shared situational naval picture for the exercise Reception Staging Onward Movement and Integration 2006. 

The COP enabled by the KNTDS provides coalition naval forces   safety and freedom of navigation. More importantly, the naval COP enables net-centricity because the shared picture allows ROK and U.S. forces to self-synchronize on events developing in the maritime dimension. Finally, the ability to shape the KTO naval battlespace is critical to controlling and winning a war in the land, air and space confines of the Korean peninsula.

The second C2 key enhancement is the development and use of the Combined Forces Command (CFC) portal on CENTRIXS-K for the combined U.S. and ROK forces. Command emphasis on a single portal from the start ensured unity of effort. According to Col. Carl Block, USAF, the former USFK/J-36, “If it were not for the commander’s mandate that everyone use the CFC portal, we would not have the complete buy-in that we have today.” 

Web portals are not new ideas. But, without command emphasis on developing and using one portal that all coalition members share, a plethora of portals and very little sharing would exist. Col. Greg Edwards, USAF, USFK/J-6, agrees. “We have adopted a federated approach to the Web portal since there are so many components and potential players in a Korean scenario; however, command emphasis on a single portal or front page which we all see and can share from is critical to our information sharing with the ROKs. That is why it is also important that by a click of a button we can see the same content either in English or Hangul,” he shares.

The third enhancement is the addition of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) streaming video to CENTRIXS-K, adding a new arrow to the CFC/United Nations Command/USFK C2 quiver. Though streaming video is not new to defense department networks—its use in the war in Iraq being the most obvious example—in Korea, the need to share streaming UAV video takes on a new complexity. The ROK army and navy operate their own fleet of UAVs, so the requirement for USFK became one of connecting both U.S.- and Korean-owned UAVs. 

The USFK/J-6 and J-2 collaborated to develop a UAV architecture that secures the information while providing entry points into CENTRIXS–K for information sharing and transport. The UAV requirements are driving several command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) infrastructure upgrades to handle robust connection speeds for streaming media while providing quality of service and Internet protocol version 6 compliance. Lt. Cmdr. Peter Wu, USN, USFK/J-6 chief architect and engineer for the project, notes, “Our entire contract team—from the Anteon C2 operations and maintenance contract to the on-site Cisco engineering work—was crucial to get the network upgrades in place to meet the commander’s mandate.”

Cmdr. Wu also anticipates a growing need for streaming media. He was able to justify the need by earning nearly $400,000 in U.S. Pacific Command Commander’s Initiative Funds to pay for video-on-demand as well as for video archiving for anticipated needs to store UAV and other media.

With the fourth enhancement, USFK is moving out to quench the staff’s thirst for horizontal and vertical collaboration. Recognizing that at least two overlapping demands for collaboration exist is just the beginning. At the strategic and operational levels of battle command, Gen. Bell and his component commanders require the ability to synchronize the battlespace, then to plan and execute today’s battle as well as plan the future battle. At the operational and tactical levels, the USFK staff and subordinate staffs must be able to synchronize unity of effort through ad hoc chat, videoconference, whiteboard and file sharing.

Critical to Gen. Bell’s collaboration suite is a set of tools that provide video teleconferencing and sharing of COP and slides. USFK uses SMART Technologies Incorporated’s, Calgary, Canada, Sympodium and Bridgit software to give the commander and his component commanders real-time collaboration. In particular, Sympodium enables them to draw out battle plans on a shared COP, as does John Madden on Monday Night football. As Gen. Bell says, “It’s critical that I understand the intent of my component commanders. When they draw out their plans on the COP, I and everyone else can better understand what they are thinking and why it’s important. That’s what’s going to give us the war-winning edge. That’s what I call net-centric.”

The Bridgit software helps render the COP on a screen regardless of whether the person seeing it is using an expensive high-resolution display or a lower cost low-resolution display. The USFK staff opted to test Bridgit in a proof-of-concept as the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) works to select the next generation collaboration services. As Col. Block notes, “In the past, we had to make giant investments in   hi-res displays so everyone could see the same picture … with Bridgit, we can share the same information, but I don’t have to worry about whether everyone has a hi-res display anymore. For a small investment in Bridgit, we save money while ensuring interoperability. The warfighter gets something that works without having to worry about IT.”

The recent migration from the Global Command and Control System–Korea (GCCS-K), a GCCS-Army derivative, to CENTRIXS-K is a key enabler for the command’s success. The GCCS-K had been the mainstay coalition battle command system used by USFK and CFC for several years, but the Defense Department mandate to move toward a standard multinational information system led to the development of CENTRIXS-K. 

Migration to CENTRIXS-K began early in 2006. It is currently undergoing interoperability testing and will be the first Joint Interoperability Test Command-certified CENTRIXS platform. In addition, the move from a legacy Microsoft NT operating system to a Windows XP operating environment already is reaping benefits in automating back-office processes and improving CENTRIXS-K security. The command is pursuing the connection of CENTRIXS-K into the Joint Program Office-managed CENTRIXS being rolled out by DISA. Command officials see this connectivity as being critical to facilitate and enhance USFK’s participation in the Global War on Terrorism.

A second area where the command acts decisively is in its horizontal process orientation for vetting new technology to be tested on the operational network. The process relies not only on operations and security testing in the J-6 test lab, but also on the J-36 in determining priorities of operational requirements for the J-6. “Close integration between the J-3, J-6, and J-2 is essential for success,” according to Col. Edwards. The command’s process uses a “Council of Colonels” approach to give requirements a review before deciding and approving resources to be leveled against each requirement. In this way, the command manages its future network operations (NetOps) in a planned and process-oriented fashion that encourages teamwork.

Finally, the J-6 depends on a number of management information feeds to build C4I situational awareness. The C4I COP is the Korean Theater Management System, or KTMS. The system gives the J-6 a situational awareness picture of a range of networks operated by component commands, including all major C2 systems. 

The problem with the KTMS is in controlling the actions of those components within the KTO that are not under the theater NetOps command of USFK. Col. Edwards says, “Theater NetOps Command in the KTO is a concept we need to get right. The current arrangement calls for NetOps along service lines where the Army is controlled by its TNOSC [Theater Network Operations and Security Center], the Air Force is under its NOSC [Network Operations Security Center] and the Navy falls under its PRNOC [Pacific Region Network Operations Center]. The only arrangement that is not spoken for is how USFK and CFC control C4I in the KTO, and we are working that piece.”

Given that NetOps may be a challenge for the future, USFK has established an infrastructure and the C4I tools to facilitate senior leader decision making.

Col. Harry H. Blanke III, USAF, is commander of the 96th Communications Group, Elgin, Air Force Base, Florida.


Web Resources
United States Forces Korea: www.usfk.mil
JITC CENTRIXS: jitc.fhu.disa.mil/washops/jtca/centrixs.html
SMART Technologies:


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