Army sets new benchmark for IP telephony

Infantry commanders can now use a phone and place a VOIP call from the battlefield

Not long ago, if an Army infantry battalion commander wanted to communicate, he relied on radios that had limited range and often spotty coverage. But today, a growing number of those commanders can use a phone connected to a Joint Network Node terminal and call anyone worldwide.

The Army has harnessed the power of voice-over-IP telephony for use as a tactical, battlefield communications system with JNN, said Jim Sintic, technical director of the Army’s Program Manager for Tactical Radio Communications.

VOIP phones connected to Cisco Systems routers in the JNN equipment suite enable infantry commanders to make phone calls as easily as if they were sitting at the Pentagon, Sintic said. The commercial routers connect to satellite circuits via a Datapath dish.

“This is the first time in history that IP-centric architecture has been deployed to support units from division down to battalion level,” Sintic said. Karl Darstadt, major account manager for deployed operations at Cisco, said the VOIP phones in the JNN terminals enable commanders to make calls on the Defense Department’s Secret IP Router Network (SIPRNET) and the Non-secure IP Router Network (NIPRNET).

Sintic said a typical JNN can support 48 SIPRNET calls and 46 NIPRNET calls on a 3 megabits/sec satellite circuit. A typical node also gives battalion commanders broadband data access to the Defense Information Systems Network.

Mike D’Allesandro, a major account manager at Cisco, said VOIP from the battlefield pushes the technology envelope but has limitations. Phone calls made via JNN don’t sound as bad as communications on a tactical radio, D’Allesandro said.

But they don’t sound as good as a circuit-switched or VOIP phone call made via a commercial, wired phone network.

Besides supporting infantry battalions, JNN is designed to support higher commands at the brigade and division level, with a deployed hub that controls all satellite traffic. The Army originally deployed JNN to the 3rd Infantry Division in 2004, Sintic said. Active Army divisions in Iraq and some guard units, such as the Minnesota National Guard, now widely use JNN.

Bill Weiss, vice president of tactical networks at General Dynamics C4 Systems, the JNN contractor, said the company has deployed JNN to four divisions. The company is equipping another three divisions in a fast-track program that enabled the Army to field the first JNN gear to the 3rd Infantry Division in six months.

Weiss said the deployment schedule is unprecedented for General Dynamics. “I can’t think of any time we have ever delivered such a network system in such a short time,” he said.

Sintic said JNN’s speedy deployment is because of its commercial technology, which gave the Army a flexible, battlefield IP-based network.

Besides the Cisco routers, commercial equipment used in JNN includes Redcom PBX switches, Juniper Networks firewalls and Promina broadband network interfaces. After the Army selected that equipment, developers only needed to integrate the equipment into shelters or hardened transit cases, Sintic said.

In the JNN configuration that battalion commanders use, much of the commercial gear is on a trailer towed by a Humvee, Weiss said. The equipment can be set up quickly after the vehicle stops.

Sintic said the battalion JNN can be established in 30 minutes to support “a highly mobile and agile fighting force with broadband voice, video and data.”

army

General Dynamics says it will fix JNN’s flawDespite the advances in battlefield communication that the Joint Network Node has provided, it has one flaw that the Army would like to fix: It cannot operate while in transit.

General Dynamics plans to fix that, said Bill Weiss, vice president of tactical networks at the company’s C4 Systems division. Weiss said the company plans to adapt a satellite dish that it is developing for the Army’s next-generation Warfighter Information Network-Tactical.

About the size of a TV satellite dish, it can track and lock onto a satellite while on the move. It could provide commanders with continuous access to the JNN network, Weiss said. He did not provide a deployment date.

— Bob Brewin

At a glance: Battlefield connectionsThe Joint Network Node uses satellite links for beyond line-of-sight communications. It requires transportation vehicles to stop before it can be engaged, also known as communications at the quick halt.

JNN’s essential benefits include:

  • Connecting the warfighter to the Defense Department’s Global Information Grid.

  • Providing Internet-based connectivity to the Defense Information Systems Network (DISN) per division.

  • Delivering DISN connectivity to the battalion level.

  • Offering enhanced mobility and communications.

  • Supporting joint and coalition connectivity.

  • Providing interfaces to older systems.

  • Offering a secure Internet backbone with Type 1 Encryption.

  • Supporting Satcom and land-based connectivity.

  • Enabling autonomous brigade operations.
  • Source: Army

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