Troops dial up stateside data
- By Bob Brewin
- Mar 03, 1996
ZAGREB, Croatia—The Army has extended powerful telecommunications networks so deep into Bosnia that infantry company clerks can use their PCs to easily tap into databases in the United States, according to top-ranking communications and computer experts in the Army 5th Signal Command, Defense Information Systems Agency-Europe (DISA-EUR) and the U.S. European Command (EUCOM).
Lt. Col. Gene Tyler, deputy assistant chief of staff for automation, U. S. Army-Europe, interviewed here last week, said, "This operation, from an automation standpoint, is the biggest thing the Army has every done. We have an e-mail network [serving the ground troops in Bosnia and support forces in Hungary] that outdoes what we have in garrison. We are providing true state-of-the-art automation."
Maj. Frank Cox, battle staff chief for 5th Signal, interviewed at 5th Signal headquarters in Worms, Germany, said connectivity available to U.S. combat forces in Bosnia—as well as logistics troops supporting them in Hungary—represents the "largest and most widely dispersed network ever installed" to support U.S. forces.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Randy Witt, director of command, control and communications systems for EUCOM, interviewed at his headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, called the Operation Joint Endeavor communications network "the most complex in history.... [This is] far more complex than anything we installed for [Operations] Desert Shield/Desert Storm."
The Joint Endeavor networks also offer U.S. forces a new kind of command and control system, according to Capt. Ray Compton, the 5th Signal engineer who helped plan and develop the data networks in Bosnia and Hungary. "We're using C2 embedded in commercial systems, especially e-mail systems. We have moved the garrison systems into the field because the commanders want to use in the field what they use in garrison.... A grunt company clerk now has the capability of making connections anywhere in the world."
The ability of the lowest echelons of the Army's Bosnian peace-keeping force to communicate with continental U.S. data systems has made a real difference in managing logistics functions, said Cindy Moran, chief of the 5th Signal data network information center. "It's cut the time to requisition and get a shipment of supplies to Europe from four to six weeks to less than a week," she said.
Much of the e-mail emanating from Hungary comes from the yet-to-be commercially released Microsoft Corp. Exchange software. Lt. Col. John Ylinen, automation chief for V Corps, the command in charge of all Army forces in Joint Endeavor, started seeding his users with Exchange a year ago as part of a beta test program. Ylinen, interviewed in Heidelberg, said he is so pleased with Exchange that he plans to start switching users in Bosnia from MS-Mail to the newer software as soon as possible, and he would like to see it become a standard package for U.S. Army-Europe.
Ylinen said he opted for Exchange over MS-Mail for a number of reasons, technical and practical. "We did not like MS-Mail. Among other things, it's hard to administer, and Exchange fixed a lot of things. We started using it in garrison, and when we deployed, we decided to send it because the users wanted their e-mail."
Ylinen said the ability to purchase Exchange off a major contract—the Army's Small Multiuser Computer contract, held by Telos Corp., offers Release 1.0 —was another factor in deciding to spread the software across the Bosnian theater.
The success of Exchange in supporting Joint Endeavor, Ylinen agreed, rests with the extensive communications network that 5th Signal, EUCOM and DISA-EUR stitched together from tactical and commercial resources. The Army has tied infantry companies into the network by installing Motorola Corp. Network Encryption Systems, which act much like routers in 17 of the 24 forward base camps in Bosnia. "From there we can run field wire to the companies for up to two miles," Compton said.
All this traffic flows through a number of tactical and commercial pipes, both satellite and ground, to "reach back" sites in Germany, where traffic is sent to the Defense Information Systems Network. The result of this complex network, according to Compton, is that even low-echelon users can, and do, access World Wide Web sites for needed technical data or logistics information.
Ylinen said the ultimate payoff will be measured in terms of less exposure to risk and possibly the saving of lives. "These systems will keep a soldier from making an unnecessary trip in a Humvee and possibly hitting a mine," he said.