Intercepts: Aloha Edition

We spent last week in Hawaii at AFCEA International's TechNet Asia-Pacific 2005 conference, along with hundreds of Defense Department information technology staffers and vendors, while Washington, D.C., went through its first snow of the season.

But it was tough — almost everyone was awake between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. daily to check their e-mail messages and then had to face jet lag on the way home.

Hang four

The surf and sun culture here can infect even gray-haired admirals, such as Adm. William Fallon, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command (Pacom). In his opening remarks, he announced that he has taken up surfing under the guidance of legendary surfer and Hawaii state Sen. Fred Hemmings.

If other top generals and admirals follow Fallon's lead, Research in Motion might have to develop a waterproof BlackBerry.

Internet chat revolution

Bob Stephenson, chief technology officer for command, control, communications, computers and intelligence at the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (Spawar), said the service has so widely embraced Internet chat technology that it has replaced radio as the primary form of communication at shipboard operations centers. It eliminates the frustration of trying to hear one relevant conversation when 20 radio networks are operating at once.

Stephenson said it's rare to hear a radio transmission on ships these days.

Internet chat confusion

Top commanders like to complain about the lack of standards for computer and information systems, and in an indication of how fast the military is embracing chat technology as a command and control tool, Fallon said he would like to see standards for the technology.

He said Pacom uses five chat tools, which in his view is about four too many.

Fiber on the Rock

Col. Edric Kirkman, commander of the 516th Signal Brigade, said the Army has started to beef up its networks on Okinawa — known as the Rock to those of us who have done time there — and plans an island-spanning network with an OC-192 backbone that blazes along at a speed of 10 gigabits/sec.

Kirkman said the 516th Signal Brigade is also considering extending Secret IP Router Network connectivity from the battalion down to the company level for units based on Oahu.

The reason for the change is that Hawaii-based troops have such access at the company level when they are in Iraq and want the same at home.

The Army's Navy

The Army plans to locate as many as nine Theater Support Vessels at Pacom, and Kirkman said the service is looking to install broadband communications systems on the vessels. They can carry Stryker vehicles, which are due to be based in Hawaii.

Sounds like a job for Spawar and its Internet chat expertise.

Remembering Pvts. Elliott and Lockard

Advanced systems are supposed to provide commanders with a broad view of the battlespace, but sometimes commanders don't act on that information, as Lt. Gen. David Deptula, Pacific Air Forces chief of staff, reminded the TechNet audience Dec. 7.

On that date in 1941, Army Pvts. George Elliott and Joseph Lockard were manning a new, advanced piece of technology — a radar set — atop an Oahu peak when they detected a large formation of aircraft headed toward the island.

They reported the sighting up their command chain, but it was ignored, perhaps because of the novelty of the technology or the low rank of its operators, Deptula said. About an hour later, that formation of 183 Japanese planes began their attack on Pearl Harbor.

The best technology, and the advanced situational awareness it provides, does no good, Deptula said, if commanders fail to act on the information.

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