Information Sharing Crucial to Asian Operations

October 2008
By Henry S. Kenyon

The U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) manages a number of initiatives promoting multinational information sharing. Because interoperability is a key factor for coalition operations, exercises such as this year’s RIMPAC bring together forces from across the region to hone their command and control capabilities.
U. S. Pacific Command-managed efforts focus on multinational cooperation, shared standards.

Communications and data interoperability with regional nations are essential for U.S. forces in Southeast Asia. The military command responsible for this region must manage and coordinate operations across approximately half of the planet’s surface, an area encompassing 39 nations with 60 percent of the world’s population, vital international trade routes and several potential flashpoints. To facilitate its mission across this vast region, this command spearheads a variety of efforts designed to foster interoperability with the region’s armed forces.

Because of the theater’s great operational distances, the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) relies on satellite and radio communications to coordinate its forces. The Asia-Pacific region also is home to the world’s largest armed forces and critical oil tanker routes from the Middle East. To operate effectively in this theater, PACOM’s J-6 office manages several programs designed to enhance communications between U.S. forces and partner nations.

This office is responsible for managing several programs supporting coalition operations, explains PACOM’s director for communications systems (J-6), Brig. Gen. Ronald M. Bouchard, USA, Honolulu, Hawaii. These efforts are the Combined Communications Interoperability Program (CCIP), the Multinational Communications Program (MCIP), the International Information Assurance Program (IIAP) and the Joint Frequency Management Office-Pacific (JFMO-PAC). The CCIP focuses on bilateral standards while the MCIP develops guidelines and procedures to support communications during multinational operations. The IIAP’s role is to establish information assurance working groups to carry out international agreement provisions directed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The JFMO-PAC plans and coordinates joint and coalition spectrum requirements in PACOM’s theater of operation.

PACOM works with nations that have communications systems interoperability requirements through the CCIP. The general explains that the CCIP interacts with area nations on a bilateral basis (trilateral in the case of Australia and New Zealand). The program is based on individual regional partner security agreements, the tenets of which are established in biannual meetings to determine the acquisition of communications systems, and the maintenance and configuration of new and legacy equipment.

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), which releases validated communications requirements, and the Joint Interoperability Test Command, which provides interoperability testing, both support the command’s CCIP efforts. Gen. Bouchard maintains that a six-step process ensures interoperability between CCIP partners: validating interoperability requirements, applying appropriate military standards to release a standard, verifying standard implementation via one-on-one conformance testing, validating interoperability through combined interoperability testing, demonstrating interoperability through exercises and using interoperability to improve warfighter lethality and effectiveness during operations.

A recent example of CCIP in action was the RIMPAC 08 exercise in which Australia, Singapore, Canada, Chile, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States created an interoperable Link-11 network. The network fed data to the forces’ common tactical and operational pictures with radar links from Australian, Singaporean, Canadian, U.S. and South Korean ships. Other information came from U.S. and South Korean P-3 Orion maritime aircraft, U.S. and British airborne warning and control aircraft, and the air operations center at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. All of this information was coordinated across the Coalition Maritime Forces Pacific data network. The general adds that during the exercise, U.S. and Japanese ships were interoperating via Link-11 and Link-16.

The role of PACOM’s MCIP is to support multinational operations by developing communications interoperability between partner nations. The MCIP is a venue to develop the communications chapter of the Multinational Forces Standing Operating Procedures (MNF SOP), Gen. Bouchard says. It also works to create relationships between communications planners by providing online collaboration tools and a forum for senior leaders to meet and discuss multinational exercises. Through the MCIP, planners can document computer information system requirements for multinational force operations by identifying critical communications capabilities, shortfalls and solutions. The MCIP also validates interoperability through training and multilateral exercises.

Aside from the MNF SOP, the MCIP also produces the Multinational Communications Interoperability Guide (MCIG), a repository of interoperability data that allows planners and operators in the field to identify communications system procedures to support combined operations. The guide lists equipment and systems interfaces as well as their interoperability limitations. The general maintains that the MCIG furthers the readiness and effectiveness of multinational forces in the Asia-Pacific region during combined exercises, deployments, disaster relief and peacekeeping operations. The MCIG is Web-accessible to participating nations via the MCIP portal.

The IIAP is an OSD-sponsored program that manages the international information assurance/computer network defense (IA/CND) agreements that the OSD has established in the region. Gen. Bouchard explains that the command currently has one multilateral and two bilateral agreements under its purview. Another bilateral agreement is scheduled to be ready by the end of the year. All of these agreements are at varying information-sharing levels. He says that the agreements permit the United States and its partners to share IA/CND information to better defend each other’s networks. “Harmful or adversarial cyberactivity not only targets the U.S., but also targets and affects our foreign military partners,” the general contends. “Many countries have smaller military networks and at times may identify suspicious network activity before the U.S., so having this information and the ability to collaborate on analysis and solutions allows us to take pre-emptive actions or to respond in a timely fashion to mitigate the problem.”

PACOM also holds regular IA/CND working group meetings with partner nations to share information about network defense and problem mitigation. The command has developed standard operating procedures with a few partner nations to permit near-real-time information sharing. The general notes that PACOM also shares information about its security processes and practices so foreign partners can better understand the process.

Spectrum usage in PACOM’s area of responsibility is managed through the JFMO-PAC, which serves as a single point of contact for regional nations requesting spectrum access. Gen. Bouchard asserts that U.S. forces in the region must operate their communications and sensor systems in compliance with host nation laws and regulations. “It’s our job to coordinate spectrum access requirements for U.S. forces operating in the PACOM region,” he says.

PACOM also is contributing to the creation of an international frequency database for use in emergency situations. The command collaborated with New Zealand and Canada to write a paper outlining lessons learned from the tsunamis that devastated parts of Asia in 2004. Endorsed by the Combined Communications-Electronics Board, a five-nation joint military communications-electronics organization, the paper was presented to the United Nations, which resulted in an International Telecommunication Union resolution at the World Radio Conference. The resolution created a new circular letter outlining the steps to establish an emergency frequency library.

Besides managing multinational interoperability programs, the PACOM J-6 also maintains the command’s communications links. The vast distances of the Pacific require solid connectivity between deployed forces and headquarters via the Global Information Grid (GIG). PACOM is implementing U.S. Defense Department efforts to improve and transform the GIG while managing communications bandwidth across the network. Gen. Bouchard notes that developing a GIG management system must emphasize coalition and inter-agency capabilities. “We’re not only talking about a Defense Department enterprise, but an international enterprise in some cases,” he says.

PACOM is working with DISA to utilize tools and techniques such as the GIG common operational picture (COP). Gen. Bouchard notes that tools such as the GIG COP are especially useful if they can be scaled to a range of operations. This scalability allows PACOM to view the entire enterprise across the Defense Department, its area of operations in the Pacific or a specific area such as South Korea and Japan. “If we are conducting an exercise with either of those sub-unified commands, it would be great to take a look at the portion of the grid that connects that particular operation. Or in some cases, if something is happening someplace in our area of responsibility, we would probably want to expand that [capability] to see how it is impacting other places,” he maintains.

Another aspect of the GIG is spectrum management. Gen. Bouchard says that spectrum management is a vital issue for U.S. and coalition forces operating in the Pacific. Each of the 39 countries in the region has its own spectrum requirements. PACOM has an international spectrum office that works with area nations on spectrum access. He notes that spectrum is a national resource controlled by individual nations. For example, if the United States wants to conduct operations in Japan and use particular frequencies, PACOM must meet with the Japanese government to obtain approval for the requested spectrum. “Spectrum throughout the world is very tight. As we go with a more mobile environment, everything is going more radio in use. As you’re going more radio, you’re talking more radio frequencies,” he observes.

As mobile radio frequency use increases, spectrum use affects both military and commercial communities. The general explains that businesses and organizations such as CNN require spectrum to transmit live news feeds. He shares that in many cases, such civilian transmissions occupy the same spectrum used by the U.S. military for operations.

Negotiating spectrum use is partly an intra- and inter-agency process between PACOM and its coalition partners. However, the general indicates that the process also is managed largely within the Defense Department. For example, PACOM’s Joint Frequency Management Office would contact its counterparts in U.S. Forces Japan to forward its request to the Japanese government. The request would outline the need for the spectrum and how the lack thereof would adversely affect operations. This request would then move to the Japanese government’s equivalent office for approval.

In the last five years, PACOM has embraced emerging technologies to achieve its operational goals. It has used World Wide Web applications to enhance collaboration and information sharing. The command uses a synchronous collaboration tool, Defense Connect Online, to enhance interoperability in a joint environment. PACOM also has maximized the use of Microsoft Sharepoint to provide an asynchronous document management capability in a collaborative environment to enhance information sharing across the command. A Web portal provides a single point of access to a variety of information and tools. The general adds that PACOM is expanding its use of network convergence to provide voice, video and data over Internet protocol. “This technology has proved its value, especially in a tactical environment supporting operational missions,” he reports.

Because PACOM’s area of responsibility covers more than half the Earth, most of it water, maintaining satellite communications is vital. Citing increasing requirements for mobility and situational awareness, Gen. Bouchard says that PACOM has a growing need for satellite links. U.S. military forces operating on land, sea and air across the region require constant communications links. “Without a doubt, it’s not a nicety, it’s a requirement,” he says.

The general remarks that PACOM is anticipating the deployment of new space-based communications platforms such as the Mobile User Objective System and the Advanced Extremely High Frequency System. “Our goal is to meet the warfighter’s demand for resources. As we begin to integrate and use these new SATCOM [satellite communications] systems, our ability to meet those needs will continue to grow,” he relates.

PACOM was the first regional command to receive a Wideband Global SATCOM satellite to enhance its communications capability. Gen. Bouchard adds that the command is exploring the use of the Integrated Waveform across the ultrahigh frequency (UHF) spectrum to better utilize available bandwidth. PACOM also will be the first combatant command to use this new waveform, he says. UHF transmissions can reach users in difficult areas such as jungle or urban zones. A variety of forces rely on UHF communications, such as special operations units, combat search and rescue teams and homeland security officials.

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