U.S. know-how brings telecom to peacekeeping in Bosnia
- By Bob Brewin
- Jan 21, 1996
U.S. peacekeepers in Bosnia have constructed one of the most extensive and complex field communications networks ever put together by the military, a voice/video/data infrastructure that stretches all the way from Bosnia to the Pentagon.
Some 600-plus soldiers of the U.S. Army 5th Signal Command—assisted by communications specialists from Allied Forces/South headquarters in Naples, Italy, and troops from all the NATO nations—have patched together in less than a month a highly sophisticated network that eclipses in size and scope the network installed for operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Brig. Gen. Robert Nabors, 5th Signal's commander, said U.S. and NATO forces need such a complex network "because this is the largest military operation conducted in Europe since World War II. It's the first time NATO has operated outside of its borders, and it's the first time we have ever worked in close harmony with a Russian unit."
According to Col. Fred Stein, 5th Signal's deputy assistant chief of staff for U.S. Army Europe/Forward, based in Taszar, Hungary, the U.S. military has used everything but tin cans and string to stitch together the communications network. When Stein arrived Dec. 9 in Hungary, now home to close to 8,000 U.S. troops (with about 11,000 in Bosnia), he first relied on communications links obtained from the Hungarian army and a few suitcase satellite terminals that were able to access the International Maritime Satellite Organization system. Three days later, the first of the 5th Signal's satellite Earth terminals designed to access the Defense Satellite Communication System (DSCS) arrived, giving him direct access to the worldwide Defense Information Systems Network (DISN).
Stein installed two more tactical satellite dishes and additional tactical switching gear, providing the Hungarian logistics hub with some 600 telephone lines over Defense Department circuits.
Besides these large-capacity tactical satellite terminals, Nabors estimated that eventually DOD will install 600 smaller, single-channel tactical satellite terminals. He said NATO forces can also tap into a very small aperture terminal (VSAT) satellite network with 50 downlinks in place throughout the former Yugoslavia.
The Defense Information Systems Agency-Europe has a request for another VSAT network with five downlinks located in the Balkans and Germany; an award is expected this month. Besides the DSCS constellation, U.S. forces can also access the NATO satellite constellation, which operates in the same X-band frequency range as DSCS, Nabors said.
The Army knew that the traffic demands of Operation Joint Endeavor had the potential to quickly overwhelm tactical circuits, so Stein quickly set about acquiring commercial circuits from the recently privatized Hungarian PTT, which Stein said "has really learned how to do business on a competitive basis."
By the end of December, he had installed three commercial wide-band E-circuits (which operate at 2.04 megabit/sec—roughly 1 megabit/sec faster than a U.S. T-1) into the Taszar/Kaposvar area.
`Just Like Back Home'
"We now have over 600 telephones in use and more than 200 computers," Stein said last week, "and are now set up here just like back home [in Germany].... We have unclassified e-mail [via the Non-Classified Internet Protocol Router Network, or NIPRNET], classified e-mail and classified voice as well [video teleconferencing, or VTC]."
The U.S. and NATO commanders view the VTC network "as absolutely essential," Stein said, routinely conducting two teleconferences a day.
Nabors said the VTC network "allows the top commanders not only to talk to and look at each other but to conduct multimedia presentations. They can put up slides or images on the screen. This is a real-time exchange of multimedia information."
Army officials said U.S. forces are using PictureTel Corp. VTC systems as well as Intel Corp. desktop video systems.
When the Army encountered problems bridging the Sava River, Stein quickly installed a VTC site there, which was used not only by the NATO commanders but also by Secretary of Defense William Perry during his visit to the Balkans recently.
Two Years in Planning Stage
Stein said the communications systems installed for Operation Joint Endeavor have been in the planning stage for more than two years. That included steps to commercialize the system in stages as quickly as possible. Now that Stein has beefed up his commercial circuits in Hungary, this "lets us free up our tactical assets here and move them further downrange [to Tuzla, Bosnia].... We have a tactical-to-commercial rhythm going here."
The NIPRNET and Secret Internet Protocol Router Network nets will allow U.S. forces to truly "pull" information from databases either in Europe or the United States, according to Stein.
"We can do payroll and leave statements right from here; we just draw it down off the computer in Heidelberg," he said.
In Zagreb, Croatia, Col. Scott Rodakowski, 5th Signal's deputy chief of staff for operations, serves as director of the Combined Force Joint Systems Organization, where he has helped install the Implementation Force Wide Area Network (IFOR WAN), a secret message system running over 64 kilobit/sec circuits. This WAN, Rodakowski said, takes "old, formal NATO record traffic, which used to move on 600 baud teletype circuits, and puts it into Microsoft Mail."
The IFOR, through planning done by Allied Forces/South headquarters, has already installed multiple, commercial E-1 circuits into Zagreb and has hooked up to the DISN-standard IDNX with routers from N.E.T., which connect Zagreb with NATO headquarters in Belgium and the Allied Forces/South headquarters in Naples.
This network ties together not only U.S. forces but British and French units as well; it will be extended to Tuzla and Sarajevo, Rodakowski said. A key piece of this commercial network is a Croatian PTT fiber-optic link from Zagreb to Split, on the Adriatic Sea.
Due to the mountainous terrain, tactical communications for the U.S. 1st Armored Division in Bosnia will require the use of 5th Signal tactical satellite terminals to serve as relays for nodes of GTE Corp. Mobile Subscriber Equipment battlefield cellular gear used by that division, Rodakowski said. Satellite terminals will also be used to stitch together similar tactical gear used by the British in their Ptarmigan network.
Installing such a complex network so quickly in an area that lacked a basic telecommunications infrastructure reflects on "the wizardry of the American soldier.... We were presented with a very ambitious set of requirements, and we have been extraordinarily successful. We have not received one complaint," Nabors said.