Dependable Communication Systems Boost Iraqi Security

July 2008
By Maryann Lawlor
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Lt. Damian Taylor, USN (l), program manager, Iraqi Command and Control Network (IC2N), and Col. Karlton Johnson, USAF, J-6, Multinational Security Transition Command–Iraq (MNSTC-I), plan strategies for possible IC2N fielding priorities to recommend to the Iraqi Minister of Interior.
Cooperative effort enables ministries of Defense and Interior to stay connected and share information.

International forces in Iraq are helping build a government communications infrastructure that will enable services that citizens of many countries take for granted: agile security and emergency response forces. The goal is to embed transformational joint command, control, computers and communications capabilities within the Iraqi ministries of Defense and Interior and to support the country’s Counterterrorism Bureau so that Iraqi security self-management can be achieved in the near future.

This work is viewed as a critical component to the United States’ exit strategy from current operations in Iraq. Col. Karlton Johnson, USAF, J-6, Multinational Security Transition Command–Iraq (MNSTC-I), explains that his team’s mission is to help the Iraqi government develop, organize, train, equip and sustain Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and ministries. Creating a cadre of technology-savvy Iraqis could stabilize the environment so that individual freedom, the rule of law and a free-market economy can evolve, the colonel says. In time, stability in Iraq will contribute to security in the Gulf region, he adds.

Col. Johnson’s J-6 team comprises members of all of the services who work either in the Network Division, Coalition Support Division, Plans Division or Director’s Action Group. Known as the Wildcards, they are force multipliers that are creating the conditions for success in Iraq, Col. Johnson maintains. The team serves in two major roles. First, it directly supports coalition forces much as a U.S. Army director of information manager or U.S. Air Force communications group would; second, it functions as the chief information officer and J-6 advisers to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense (MOD) and Ministry of Interior (MOI). In the latter role, the Wildcards are concentrating on improving MOD and MOI performance in the areas of command, control, communications and computers (C4) capabilities and processes.

To ensure that the MNSTC-I J-6 is moving toward accomplishing its mission, Col. Johnson and the team created an intent statement that outlines the road ahead. With the purpose of transforming Iraq’s MOD and MOI into decisive, forward-thinking organizations that can effectively employ joint C4 systems and concepts, the team has formed a collaborative relationship with its Iraqi counterparts within the MOD and MOI. The goal is to proceed with a joint mindset as strategic planning evolves and the Iraqi C4 enterprise develops. The ultimate objective is to establish an MOD and MOI that are manned by cadres of C4 professionals armed with C4 capabilities that enable them to secure Iraq’s environment with no outside assistance, the colonel maintains.

How the team assists the MOD and MOI is based on the conditions for success in Iraq that Gen. David H. Petraeus, USA, commanding general, Multinational Force-Iraq (MNF-I), has outlined. These conditions include generating quality military and police forces to protect Iraqi citizens; ensuring those forces can be replenished with quality personnel by establishing a sustainment system; institutionalizing capabilities and improving ministerial performance; and increasing the professionalism of Iraqi security personnel.

The MNSTC-I J-6 team already has launched a number of projects and programs that establish these conditions for success. Col. Johnson explains that the Advanced First Responder Network (AFRN) is a one-of-a-kind Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA) network comprising 81 sites in 15 major cities. The network extends emergency communication services to 18 million Iraqis, which is approximately 65 percent of the country’s population. This Iraqi version of the U.S. 911 service enables interoperable communications for the MOI, improving public safety, the colonel relates. Designed primarily to use existing Iraqi telecommunications infrastructure, the AFRN is linked between cities by state-owned Iraqi Telephone and Postal Company fiber optic cable. Network nodes within each province are linked primarily through microwave.

“Our biggest ongoing effort is to help the Iraqis expand the service in outlying regions such as Al Anbar province while simultaneously remaining focused on setting the conditions for long-term success. That success will be achieved by working with the MOI to resolve staffing issues, successfully negotiate future contracts, fund letters of credit, educate end users and work together with provincial reconstruction teams to achieve joint transition goals,” Col. Johnson explains.

Another project the MNSTC-I team has launched to set the conditions for success is the Iraqi Command and Control Network (IC2N). A primary C2 network for the MOI, the IC2N comprises the Iraqi Government Network and the Iraqi Secure Government Network, essentially the Iraqi equivalents of the U.S. military’s nonsecure Internet protocol router network and secret Internet protocol router network.

In addition to traditional voice and data communications, the IC2N is the conduit for two critical types of information that are reported directly to the prime minister’s network operations center: information reports and spot reports. The former comprises tips about planned hostile events that are scheduled to take place in the near future; the latter provides intelligence about past hostile events. The network provides uninterrupted network connectivity for these missions through very small aperture terminals (VSATs).

“As this was initially a system provided by the coalition to the Iraqi government, the most significant activity to date on this program has been the Iraqis’ ability to outsource the contract to another vendor. We see this as a significant form of progress as it brings us closer to our goal of Iraqi self-sustainability,” the colonel notes.

Plans call for the continued growth of the IC2N though 2009, expanding it to 240 sites. “We expect to see the IC2N’s continued use as a vital command and control capability for Iraqi operations down the road as they continue to reduce sectarian violence and improve rule of law throughout the country,” Col. Johnson says.

The Iraqi Defense Network (IDN) falls under the auspices of the MOD. It is the ministry’s primary C2 network for the data and voice capabilities of the Iraqi armed forces at all unit levels. This flexible and scalable network utilizes a variety of transmission media, including VSATs, microwave and fiber optics. The network features e-mail, voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), Internet access, file sharing, network printing, defense switched network calling and Iraqi cell phone service as well as international calling when proper permission is obtained.

The IDN currently is deployed at 37 sites across Iraq spanning from Mosul to Umm Qsar, supporting 10 of the 12 Iraqi army divisions along with numerous Iraqi air force, navy, counterterrorism and training units. It currently services more than 6,900 users, 3,500 computers, 1,700 telephones and 490 printers. To ensure that Iraqis will be able to continue to support this network, 17 students are now in the training cycle of 24 to 36 months.

An Iraqi police officer trains to operate a robot to counter improvised explosive devices. Radio communication training enables police forces to expand their abilities into areas they did not operate before. Col. Johnson describes this move into new areas as critical to improving the safety of Iraqi citizens.
“This is another success story for us, and the Iraqis began paying for IDN operations and maintenance through the form of a foreign military sales contract. In the near future, the Iraqis plan to expand this vital service to more and more military units, and we are working hard with them to build a competent work force capable of running the network by themselves,” Col. Johnson relates.

Finally, on the wireless side, the MNSTC-I has been instrumental in setting up the Defense Private Network (DPN), a reliable and robust enterprise-level wireless voice network that handles communications from the defense switched network, IDN VoIP and other DPN callers. The network is currently in place at 18 sites, including Iraqi army, air force and naval bases located throughout Iraq; plans call for installation at an additional 24 sites.

The Iraqi government currently is funding the DPN. In July 2007, the MOD assumed full ownership of the network, including entering into a $16 million foreign military sales one-year contract with Verizon.

In addition to these programs, the MNSTC-I J-6 is providing other services to the Iraqi government. For example, the Radio Division is helping the MOI boost its ability to maintain reliable C2 by ensuring that the Department of Border Enforcement, Iraqi police, National Police, Iraqi special forces and other forces and units receive state-of-the-art communications equipment and training.

“By providing assistance to the MOI in the execution of materiel fielding plans and training of border enforcement forces, we are strengthening their ability to provide quick reaction forces and emergency response teams that are confident and capable of performing their assigned missions/tasks,” the colonel says.

The MNSTC-I J-6 team also is working with other MNSTC-I groups in helping the MOD design a nationwide Internet protocol transport network to replace the VSAT. Col. Johnson says this move would be a win-win situation for everyone concerned because not only is the VSAT costly but also because the Iraqis are interested in technology that would make them less reliant on outside contractors.

Despite its work to bring 21st century technologies to the Iraqi MOD and MOI, the MNSTC-I J-6 recognizes that the difference in how Iraqi hierarchy functions means that the C2 structure there cannot be a mirror image of U.S. communications structures. While the military and governments of the United States and other nations follow a “centralized control and decentralized execution” construct, Col. Johnson says, the Iraqi military has not operated in this manner in the past.

“Under the reign of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi military operated under behavior sets that impeded information flows between forces, leading to ineffective combat operations. As an example, despite having some systems in place that pushed maneuver orders or guidance to fielded commanders, commanding officers in the field could not—or would not—take action unless they had written guidance in-hand with a list of signatures,” the colonel explains. “Imagine the challenges of breaking down years of conditioning in this regard. That is a large part of the challenges we face here in Iraq as we partner with them and help them think differently about C4 operations.”

Helping to change this mindset is one of the most important aspects of the effort in Iraq, Col. Johnson says. The MNSTC-I must determine what steps are necessary to achieve the U.S. military’s mandate in Iraq and help the Iraqi government evolve into a self-sustaining organization that can reduce sectarian violence and set the conditions for prosperity. “More germane to the role of communications: What is our part in helping to make that happen? I believe it centers on the idea of transformation,” he states.

The MNSTC-I J-6 is supporting this transformation in a number of ways, beginning with assisting in construction of Iraqi C4 capacity. Programs such as the IDN, IC2N, AFRN and DPN have been put into place with plans to turn them over to the Iraqis through transition. “By transition, I mean that the programs are funded by, operated by, programmed by and eventually will be revitalized by Iraqis without intervention by the coalition. …In the future, we need to see the Iraqi government working long-term investments in C4 capabilities and evolving their enterprise on their own,” the colonel says. Evolution must take place not only on the technical level but also on the leadership level, he adds, and the MNSTC-I J-6 is assisting in this area as well.

As with most transformation, cultural challenges loom, particularly because the overall cultures of the Eastern and Western hemispheres already are fundamentally so different, the colonel offers. For example, while U.S. organizations view timelines in terms of preset schedules and completion dates, the Iraqi culture views them more in terms of the completion of tasks. “This is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just a different way of viewing the world. However, this simple difference in understanding can lead to moments of great consternation. Therefore, my team and I have found it very important to have a deep understanding of the culture in which we are operating, and how we should best adjust our thinking as required to accomplish the mission,” Col. Johnson relates.

Another challenge the MNSTC-I J-6 team faces is the violence that continues in Iraq. “There are those who want us to fail in this country. Their efforts sometimes make it difficult—but not impossible—to do things that we need to do. For example, if I need to meet with my counterpart in the Ministry of Interior, it’s not as simple as getting into a vehicle and driving over to his office. We have to schedule what we call a ‘movement’ that involves putting on battle armor, getting into a convoy, dodging IEDs and eventually getting to the meeting location. In that case, a simple meeting can consume the entire day.

“As you have probably seen in the news, life in the International Zone is not without its challenges as well. The threat of indirect fire attacks is a part of life here, but it is also a compelling reminder that what we do is important and that we must continue to do everything we can to bring peace to the nation. The bottom line is this: This is tough work. But it is relevant, it is vital, and most importantly, it is what we need to do to make a positive, lasting difference for the people of Iraq,” Col. Johnson maintains.

The colonel’s drive and dedication to help the Iraqi MOD and MOI succeed is at least in some part because of a young Iraqi he met soon after arriving in the country. The man was enrolled in one of the most difficult network certification courses and, because he lived in an area where people who come into the International Zone were threatened, he had to evade those who would harm him or his family simply to attend class. After attending classes eight hours each day, the man would work to support his immediate and extended family as well as his wife’s extended family. When the electricity went out, he studied by candlelight. Despite these challenges, the young man graduated with test scores of 100 percent.

“Sometimes people ask me why I do what I do here, and my answer is: I do this because it is right. I do this because it is relevant. I do this because I want to make a difference. However, after learning this individual story of success through adversity, I now say that I do this for him and others like him. It’s the least I can do for the sacrifice he is willing to make to build a nation where his children and mine come together and grow together in peace,” Col. Johnson states.

Web Resource
Multinational Security Transition Command–Iraq:


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