Linking Military And Commercial Communications

May 2002
By Kyle A. Gerlitz

System allows armed forces to share the bandwidth wealth with emergency personnel.

A recently developed technology will allow military and local community first responders to take advantage of all available communications assets. The gateway-bridging equipment provides interoperability between commercial and military networks. Specialized military network cards support the connectivity to tactical equipment, allowing commercial traffic to travel over those assets.

U.S. military equipment and personnel are important national assets in response and recovery operations during times of domestic catastrophic emergencies, disasters and homeland defense missions. Many military units, however, are not adequately equipped to meet the local voice and data telecommunications needs of commercial missions. Although the armed forces have the resources and training to assist in domestic crises, some communications professionals and equipment have been underutilized because of the technology gap between military tactical equipment and commercial communications assets.

U.S. tactical equipment was designed and procured based on anywhere, any time deployments. At the time, no one foresaw the need to design these systems to communicate directly with the commercial infrastructure. As a result, military networks that provide excellent communications support to globally dispersed troops often run into a network wall when attempting to connect into civilian telephones, switches and network devices.

The ability to rapidly extend or restore domestic commercial services that use standard telephone and data devices can save lives and help restore calm to an otherwise chaotic situation. This includes communications support for local, state and federal emergency agencies as well as some civilian communications restoration. The quicker emergency services are provided and life-saving services restored, the quicker crucial decisive action can be taken in response to the event.

While addressing U.S. mayors and county officials last January, President George W. Bush drew attention to the need to solve this problem. During his speech, the president acknowledged that several facets of the U.S. infrastructure are not standard across all regions of the United States. Regional differences range from basic fire hydrant hook-ups to the critical flow of time-sensitive information. The concern of the telecommunications professional, as stated by the president, is that even though the United States comprises 36,000 local jurisdictions, decisive steps need to be taken to “make sure that the communications equipment and the rescue equipment is compatible not only within a state but nationwide.”

Armed forces communications units can play a critical role in the government’s response to national disasters. In many cases, the events occur close to military installations, so the military should have the capability to provide initial communications restoration during response and recovery efforts.

One of the most critical telecommunications needs of local, state and federal emergency staff within and around a disaster site is to move information—both voice and data—in and out of the affected area rapidly. Often the most disabling constraint is lack of available bandwidth. Plenty of telephones, computers and video devices are on-site; however, off-site transport capability is inadequate. The size of the transmission paths between the incident location and the stable infrastructure network management facilities is limited.

The events of September 11 demonstrated this limitation. A subset of the disaster communications community—wireless communicators—was unable to make calls because of wireless network congestion. Not only do official responders and support staff need telecommunications network access, but also those immediately affected by an unforeseen event understandably put a heavy demand on resources. As a result, the president has placed this aspect of telecommunications support on his list of priorities.

Wireless users as well as wired voice and data customers must be supported by transmission pipes that can move the telecommunications traffic back into the vast commercial network. Prior to a disaster, connectivity is being provided with in-ground or over-the-air transmission assets. However, after a disaster, those assets are frequently damaged and are of little use. If the networks do remain intact, they seldom have the immediate capacity to handle the increase in voice and data bandwidth demands that predictably follow in the wake of disasters.

The immediate and cost-effective transport solution is to leverage the existing deployable transmission assets of the military. The armed forces can support the requirement for additional network pipes with their on-hand transmission resources, both satellite and multichannel radios. This equipment is highly mobile, designed for tactical deployment under harsh conditions, and supported by highly trained and experienced managers and operators. It can be used to establish, re-establish or re-direct communications to and from affected locations. Equipment is dispersed nationwide at U.S. military installations with proximity to most potential disaster sites. It is reliable, well maintained and comes to the mission with the infrastructure required, including vehicles, spare components, housing, power, fuel and other various support elements.

Today, the main difficulty with using this equipment and personnel stems from the inherent differences between the military and commercial networks. While the U.S. military was developing and fielding equipment and networks for tactical deployments, commercial industry was designing and implementing a world-class civilian network driven by a competitive multibillion dollar global industry. Whereas military communications were developed to be a closed network, the commercial sector went to great lengths to create networks with open architectures. The technology objectives of these two distinct communities led to two distinctly different solutions. As a result, military and commercial networks have difficulty tying into each other. The inability to easily bridge these two large networks is a major setback during domestic natural and manmade disasters.

Bandwidth is bandwidth, however, and the U.S. military has a tremendous amount of transmission apparatus that can be utilized for domestic restoration and homeland defense scenarios. A cost-effective solution for leveraging this equipment and interfacing both tactical and commercial technology is to use modified commercial equipment. Inexpensive, modified commercial items can augment this national resource of equipment and staff so that commercial voice and data can flow over the military’s tactical transmission lines.

Codem Systems Incorporated, Merrimack, New Hampshire, has developed gateway-bridging to meet this need by seamlessly interconnecting commercial and tactical networks and equipment. This technology is in use in U.S. military networks within Europe, Korea and the United States. It also is supporting overseas wartime missions.

The Codem access equipment is flexible. It supports wide area network interfaces, including 8T-1/E-1’s, T-1-to-E-1 conversions, Codem-developed tactical-over-commercial and commercial-over-tactical cards with encryption resync, T-1 and E-1 data service cross-connect and channel service units and high-bit-rate digital subscriber lines. The voice side of the box supports various configurations for commercial foreign exchange station, foreign exchange office, ear and mouth circuits as well as long-local mobile subscriber equipment dial tone.

The company also has developed cards that support the compression of commercial voice lines as well as the compression of secure telephones—both the secure telephone unit (STU) III and standard telephone equipment (STE). Data transmission is provided with multiple configurations of high-speed user, sub-rate user, frame relay access device, base rate interface, and office channel unit-data port cards. Server requirements are supported with frame relay, primary rate interface/basic rate interface server and Internet protocol router cards.

As with any telecommunications investment, adaptability to keep up with the changing environment is a key factor in the decision process. The equipment must be able to evolve with both the commercial and military network demands. An integration access box that is built on a card-based architecture is one solution. This allows for the development of additional cards that can be added to the box and extend the life of the product. A card configurable system supports telecommunication manager flexibility to make modifications to the network’s topology.

With minimal upgrades, military transmission assets could significantly contribute to domestic emergency efforts. U.S. armed forces could rapidly deploy, install, operate and maintain commercially based telephone, computer and video networks in support of first responders.


Kyle A. Gerlitz is general manager, Network Systems Division, Codem Systems Incorporated.

Additional information on Codem Systems Incorporated is available on the World Wide Web at

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