Centcom plans Middle East network expansion

Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar to join global grid

The U.S. Central Command wants to beef up the network infrastructure serving the command in the Middle East with high-speed fiber-optic circuits to link Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar to the Global Information Grid (GIG).

Army Brig. Gen. Susan Lawrence, Centcom’s director of command, control, communications and computers, said the command wants to establish a more robust and permanent communications infrastructure in the Middle East to support ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as any future operations that could emerge in Centcom’s area of operations.

In addition to creating the fiber-optic links, Lawrence would also like to establish satellite teleports in the three countries.

Centcom’s area of operations includes 27 countries in an arc that runs from Ethiopia through Tajikistan in central Asia, and to Pakistan and Afghanistan in south Asia.

The fiber-optic circuits would provide Centcom with high-bandwidth connections between the GIG and a point of presence in each of the three countries, which could then be used to extend wideband service to U.S. forces operating throughout the area, Lawrence said.

In addition, she said she would like to see the establishment of a forward data center in the area of operations, modeled on the Defense Information Systems Agency’s Defense Enterprise Computing Centers to store data that the command and its forward operating forces need.

Currently, Centcom relies mostly on a mix of commercial and military satellite systems at its network backbone. Commercial satellite bandwidth is expensive, but deploying tactical satellite systems from units such as the Army’s 5th Signal Command has its own high price in terms of repeated deployment cycles for troops and equipment, Lawrence said.

Centcom must use satellites because terrestrial systems are not mature enough to meet the needs of military personnel in the field, Centcom commander Army Gen. John Abizaid said before the House Armed Services Committee in March.

Abizaid told the committee that Centcom needs “flexible, high-capacity interoperable communications systems,” a mission requirement Lawrence said she started to work on well before Abizaid, her boss, testified.

Lawrence, her staff and a team of 20 DISA engineers have been working since December 2005 to develop a new communications infrastructure for the command, with high-speed fiber-optic connections to the area of operations being the key element in a future Centcom architecture, she said.

These fiber-optic circuits would be backed up by satellite services drawing on multiple military and commercial satellite systems.

Centcom is looking at DISA’s domestic GIG Bandwidth Expansion (GIG-BE) project as a model for extending fiber-optic circuits to the Middle East, Lawrence said.

Bernie Skoch, a consultant at Suss Consulting, said he viewed the Centcom plans as a major extension of the GIG, but he questioned the wisdom of using GIG-BE as a model.

DISA bought and maintains fiber-optic circuits for GIG-BE. Centcom could probably do as well or better acquiring fiber-optic service through a commercial carrier, Skoch said.

Cheaper by the fiberThe U.S. Central Command’s plan to deploy a fiber extension from the Global Information Grid to its area of operations in the Middle East could significantly cut bandwidth costs, said Marlin Forbes, vice president for defense and international services at Verizon.

Satellite circuits that Centcom uses today cost about four times as much as fiber-optic circuits, Forbes said. He added that Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar can be easily connected to two different global fiber-optic systems, which would provide Centcom with redundant and alternate paths.

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