Marines patch together a network

The Marine Corps' Tactical Data Network was designed with massive capabilities but was so complex and unwieldy that it gave headaches to some of the people who built and maintained it during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Some of the boots-on-the-ground Marines in charge of the network said it was one of the most complicated and ad hoc systems they'd seen.

"I think across the board, for all of the services, the systems architecture was very complex, and probably needlessly so," said Lt. Col. Peter Keating, fire support coordinator for the 1st Marine Division. "We haven't created the conditions for a successful interoperable environment from the [get-go]."

Brig. Gen. John Thomas, the Marines' chief information officer, said the network was assembled in a way that was less than optimal for its operations.

"We had the most advanced network ever in the Marine Corps, but only one, two or three people who knew how it all came together," he said.

Those who understood the network held Marine data communications together with their hands, said Debra Filippi, the Marines' deputy CIO.

Individual Marine communicators were responsible for making the Marine Corps communications in Operation Iraqi Freedom such a success, she said.

"Our Tactical Data Network was the most complex in our history of the Marine Corps," Filippi said. More than 80 percent of the Marine Corps command, control, communications and computer assets — critical logistics assets — were engaged in supporting the network.

Although Filippi lauded its success, others said that those accomplishments were possible only because of the work of network administrators, who had to patch several networks and systems together to ensure connectivity.

Maj. Michael Sweeney, a command and control integration officer supporting the coalition force land component commander in Iraq, said administrators had to stop building the network at one point because it became too unwieldy to manage.

"Toward the end of January, we had to put a stop to any new systems into the systems architecture to get our arms around" what we had, he said. n

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Marines' Tactical Data Network

The Tactical Data Network consists of a network of interconnected gateways and servers.

n First gateways available: fiscal 1998.

n The network supports message handling, directory services, file sharing, facsimile handling and terminal emulation support.

n The gateway will provide access to the Defense Department's secure and nonsecure networks and other services' tactical packet switched networks.

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