DOD aids tsunami relief

Military deploys communications gear to devastated region

Defense Department officials have marshaled a wide range of command, control and communications (C3) tools and personnel to support the massive humanitarian operation helping people devastated by last month's tsunami.

DOD officials need to be able to communicate with units operating in or off the shores of Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka, because "if we can't communicate, we can't deliver the relief where it is needed," said Army Lt. Col. Bill Bigelow, a spokesman for Pacific Command at its headquarters in Honolulu.

The command also needs C3 systems to effectively manage the logistics of the U.S. relief effort, which as of Jan. 7 includes 15,000 military personnel, more than 20 Navy ships in or en route to the Indian Ocean, one Coast Guard ship, 32 cargo aircraft, nine reconnaissance planes and 50 helicopters, Bigelow said.

The Defense Information Systems Agency set up a Global Network Operations Center Tsunami Support Cell last week to provide communications and support for DOD's Combined Support Force 536 (CSF-536) headquarters in Utapao, Thailand, said Sheryl Robertson, a DISA spokeswoman.

The Tsunami Support Cell is staffed by personnel from DISA-Pacific and Strategic Command's Joint Task Force-Global Network Operations, Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., Robertson added.

The support cell has provided CSF-536 with a variety of secure and nonsecure communications systems including satellite links; network gateway access; videoconferencing systems; voice, video and data services; and collaborative planning tools, she said.

DISA-Pacific will also supply personnel to support CSF-536 Rear, based at Camp Courtney in Okinawa, Japan.

Robertson added that DISA officials plan to provide CSF-536's operational planners with the Defense Collaborative Tool Suite. The suite includes videoconferencing, electronic whiteboarding, instant messaging and other tools designed to support collaborative planning.

Satellites are the primary means of communications for U.S. forces operating in the affected area, so DISA officials have quickly adapted services to support evolving satellite communications requirements, she said.

The agency has expanded its coverage of the Indian Ocean region through the Enhanced Mobile Satellite Service (EMSS), which provides telephone service via a global satellite constellation operated by Iridium Satellite of Bethesda, Md.

Satellite phones are often the only means of communications in areas hit by the tsunami, Robertson said, and coverage is now available to the ocean area within the vicinity of the affected countries.

Major DOD units deployed to the region also use wideband satellite systems as their primary means of communications for voice, data and video.

These include USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier operating off the shore of Indonesia, and USS Bonhomme Richard, a helicopter carrier operating off Sri Lanka. Both are equipped with Challenge Athena C-band satellite dishes, which use commercial satellite services.

The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, onboard Bonhomme Richard and also operating in Sri Lanka, deployed with a

C-band satellite terminal. Five Air Force Tanker Airlift Control Elements sent to the region also rely on satellite systems for wideband data communications. Robertson said DISA officials can quickly increase satellite bandwidth as necessary.

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