Bandwidth in Iraq a subject of debate

Battlefield commanders have returned from the deserts of Iraq with conflicting opinions about the availability of network bandwidth during critical operations.

Although they all agree that technology inordinately helped expedite the end of combat operations, they also think that network bandwidth — long decried as one of the military's top challenges — was not up to par for all commanders.

Air Force vice chief of staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley, speaking earlier this month in Virginia Beach, Va., at the U.S. Naval Institute's warfare exposition and symposium, said the amount of data flowing to his command in Iraq, where he had oversight of the airspace over the country, was unsurpassed in the history of warfare.

"I had 100 T1 lines coming through" the combined air operations center, Moseley said. "That's 1.5 million bits of information every second times 100. This is the first time in my career that I was fully integrated" from the outset, rather than spending time coordinating efforts.

Significant time was devoted to developing contingency plans in case communications lines were off-line or compromised, but he lauded the coalition's success at getting information into the hands of those who needed it most.

However, lack of bandwidth was an issue for Marine Maj. Gen. James Amos, commanding general of the Third Marine aircraft wing, throughout the operation.

"We definitely had challenges with bandwidth," Amos said. "We had minimal bandwidth and everybody wanted it.

"I had one...channel available to me," he said. "If someone else was using it, I had to wait until they were finished. And it's not just voice; it's data, too."

Amos said the need to send data to air controllers on the ground remains one of his top concerns, but he is convinced the situation will rectify itself as more services become digital.

"I'm a big proponent of digitization," he said. "When it's 120 degrees outside and there's dust and sand blowing and I can't see you, we're still going to have to pass information and it's going to have to work."

Army Col. Karl Horst, chief of staff for the XVIII Airborne Corps, said he had plenty of communications networks and needed them to have a continuous link to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS).

"I had priority for UAVs and could dynamically task those," said Horst, using the military term for changing missions on the fly. "We even used links on the UAVs to communicate" with other units.

Before the war started, bandwidth was touted as one resource Defense Department officials expected to have in abundance and everyone on the battlefield was supposed to be connected to a certain degree. But the speed with which the forces moved, the shortage of satellite communications and the inability to string fiber nationwide hampered those efforts.

"As [DOD] develops more and more smart weapons platforms and invests more and more heavily into intelligence and surveillance systems, the bandwidth demands are just going to get worse," said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting Inc. "UAVs are a tremendous draw on bandwidth, and they are going to be prolific on future battlefields."

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