Bosnian Mission Demands Most Complex Network Ever
- By Bob Brewin
- Apr 28, 1996
Top U.S. and NATO command and control chiefs for Operation Joint Endeavor did not set out to build the most complex communications network ever fielded, but they ended up doing just that. Tactical, geographic and political factors all contributed to the building of this complicated pipeline that links many different types of equipment and applications in disparate locations throughout Bosnia, Croatia, Germany, Hungary and the United States.
The weather, the terrain and the legacy of land mines all add to the danger of any movement of personnel, so when designing the communications system, the commanders decided to bring the networks and the information those nets carry directly to the soldiers in the field.
In the process, the Army extended the voice, data and video networks down to infantry company users at forward operating bases, according to Bruce Funk, the Zagreb, Croatia-based unclassified network manager for the 5th Signal Command. "We provided soldiers in Bosnia with the same kind of connectivity they had in Germany. We're making history because never before have we delivered data down to such a level," Funk said.
To add to the complexity of the operation, military forces from more than 30 nations are participating in Joint Endeavor, and they must all be tied into the network, according to Commodore Peter Swann, the NATO director of command, control and communications for the operation. "This is the biggest and most complicated military network ever installed because of the multinational nature of the operation and its location," said Swann, interviewed at his forward headquarters in Zagreb.
British, French and U.S. tactical systems have been integrated into one cohesive network, with even the Russian brigade tied into the U.S. tactical satellite network. The tactical gear offers the advantages of mobility, ruggedness and independence because it runs off generators, not local power. But tactical systems provide users with only relatively thin pipes into close-to-saturated U.S. and NATO military satellite constellations, according to Col. Scott Rodakowski, 5th Signal's deputy chief of staff and director of the NATO Combined Joint Communications Control Center in Zagreb.
Two commercially based networks, one installed and operated by NATO and the other by the Defense Information Systems Agency, provide the major wideband pipes for NATO's Implementation Force (IFOR).
The integration of the multinational communications systems and commercial networks serving IFOR has been so thorough, Swann said, that he can pick up a phone on his desk in Zagreb "and by dialing just seven digits I can get the Russians, and by dialing 11 I can talk to [the U.S. Strategic Command in] Omaha."
Satellites Provide Connectivity
Behind this easy connectivity lies a web of satellite networks, with 5th Signal and V Corps' 22nd Signal Brigade providing the major tactical nodes.
Standard Army practice calls for using terrestrial line-of-sight radios to hook together the digital switch nodes of the Mobile Subscriber Equipment (MSE) and the Tri-Tac Tactical Packet Networks used by 5th Signal and 22nd Signal. However, the topography of this region required that those networks use tactical satellite links to communicate even short distances, such as from one side of Sarajevo, Bosnia, to the other, IFOR's Swann said.
"This is incredibly mountainous territory, which means line-of-sight just goes out the window. We have to use satellites," Swann said.
The bulk of Army tactical satellite shots in Bosnia and Croatia, as well as similar systems in Hungary (headquarters of the U.S. National Support Element), all terminate at one of three "reach back" sites operated by the 43rd Signal Battalion in Germany.
Crammed inside a gear-stuffed tactical switch van parked at U.S. Army Europe HQ in Heidelberg, Germany, Staff Sgt. Tammy Perrine monitors the health of the "down range" circuits as traffic is passed to the commercial and military circuits that make up the worldwide Defense Information Systems Network (DISN). The Heidelberg reach-back site processes 30,000 phone calls a day for the 20,000 U.S. and 40,000 other NATO troops engaged in Joint Endeavor, Perrine said.
The U.S. European Command (EUCOM), IFOR and NATO all would like to move from tactical circuits to commercial systems as quickly as possible. But more than four months into Joint Endeavor, the tactical switches and uplinks provided by 5th Signal and 22nd Signal continue to serve as the operation's primary communications links due to problems that led to slower-than-anticipated installation of commercial satellite systems in the theater.
In Sarajevo, Joint Endeavor presented special communications challenges for NATO because it never anticipated deploying outside the central European theater. Instead, NATO planned to rely on fixed communications assets, which Europe enjoys in abundance.
Maj. John Hickey of 5th Signal, who serves as the officer in charge of communications systems in Sarajevo, said one of the lessons learned from Joint Endeavor "is the necessity of tactical comm. We can't afford to wait the amount of time it takes to get the commercial gear in."
This was also the experience in Hungary, where the 44th Signal Battalion still carried the bulk of the traffic for the U.S. National Support Element in the fourth month of the operation.
Lt. Col. Robert Horback, commanding officer of the 44th Signal Battalion, said his unit had installed more than 600 tactical telephones at the Tazar airfield and the Kaposvar support base—both in Hungary—as well as a data network supporting more than 500 users. "We're handling 20,000 calls into Europe a day and 10,000 [continental United States] calls a day."
Besides these tactical networks, IFOR operates a very small aperture terminal (VSAT) network, which was originally installed by the United Nations and which offers 6 kilobit/sec connectivity to about 50 locations within the European theater, according to Rodakowski.
NATO has also purchased more than 200 suitcase-type tactical satellite terminals for use by top commanders in the theater, according to Air Force Brig. Gen. Randy Witt, director of command, control and communications systems for EUCOM.
The primary commercial communications pipes for Joint Endeavor consist of E-1 (or multiple E-1s) satellite circuits running through IDNX multiplexers installed in-theater by N.E.T. Federal. One of these networks, installed in the spring of 1995, supports NATO, while the other, installed this year, supports U.S. forces.
The wideband U.S. network was installed as part of the DISA/Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency $88 million Bosnian C2 Augmentation Network (BC2A). Besides providing much-needed wideband connectivity, BC2A also includes the first operational deployment of a Global Broadcast System (GBS), with the Bosnian network dubbed the Joint Broadcast System (JBS).
Paul Kaminski, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and technology, said this data network will support "a high-bandwidth, secure tactical Internet." Col. Ed Mahen, the DARPA program manager for BC2A, said the network will help resolve the "last mile" problem. "The last mile tends to be a very difficult place to get a lot of communications," Mahen said.
Since DISA and DARPA unveiled their "Leading Edge" commercial services-based network for Bosnia in January, the system configuration has evolved in response to user demands, according to Army Lt. Col. Rex Barfuss, DISA's contingency operations action officer.
DISA/DARPA now serve U.S. forces in-theater with three powerful commercial satellite transponders acquired through the Commercial Satellite Communications Initiative contract held by Comsat RSI.
Barfuss said one of the International Telecommunications Satellite Consortium transponders supports telemedicine applications as well as wideband data from commands in locations such as Tuzla and Sarajevo. This wideband data network, he said, is designed to let users down-range offload data from overworked tactical satellite systems onto commercial networks feeding into DISN through IDNX multiplexers and large (5.6 meters or bigger) terminals installed by Spacelink International.
A second Intelsat transponder supports a VSAT network that carries live imagery uplinked from Tazar—collected by Predator unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) flying high above the theater—to downlink sites initially located in Sarajevo; Vicenza, Italy; and Molesworth, England. From Molesworth, the Predator imagery enters a high-speed DS-3 fiber-optic trans-Atlantic cable furnished by MCI for transmission back to the Pentagon.
That live UAV feed, as well as other intelligence products, is then transmitted back to U.S. commanders in Bosnia and Germany over the JBS from an uplink located at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, Barfuss said.
Eventually, Barfuss added, JBS terminals in the theater will allow commanders on the scene to receive wideband (up to 24 megabit/sec) information on demand from the DISA-managed Joint Systems Support Center (JSSC) in the Pentagon.
This information could include intelligence reports from the CIA or the Defense Intelligence Agency, mapping products from the Defense Mapping Agency and up-to-the-minute weather information from a number of sources. Barfuss said commanders will use the VSAT network to send their information requests to the Pentagon, with "the people in the JSSC acting as librarians to go out and find the information."
Col. Ken Richart, chief of the DISN Transition and Special Projects Division, said DISA/DARPA eventually plan to install from 24 to 31 JBS terminals in the Bosnian theater, with Hughes supplying a slightly modified version of the receiver used by consumers for the Digital Satellite Service in the United States. The JBS downlink hardware consists of the receiver, able to handle compressed video, and a 1-meter dish. The DSS receiver, a TV set and a VCR are packed in a rugged carrying case.
Each downlink site will also be equipped with another suite of equipment, developed and packaged by the Air Force Command, Control, Communications and Computer Agency, Scott Air Force Base, Ill., to handle decompression of the JBS signal stream. Equipment in this case includes a router, an Optivision Inc. MPEG2 card and a KG94 encryption module from the National Security Agency.
At the JBS sites, signals from the downlink package will be fed into a Global Command and Control System hardware package consisting of a Sun Microsystems Inc. SPARC 20 with 42G of storage, Richart said. The two-way VSAT sites at headquarters components will be equipped with a larger Sun workstation featuring 100G of storage as well as two SPARC 20s with 42G of storage.
Diana Gowen, director of DOD sales and marketing at MCI Government Markets, which is providing the DS-3 circuit, said, "This is the biggest trans-Atlantic pipe ever used by DOD."
The advanced Bosnian network will change the way commanders and troops use information, Mahen said. The network's installation marks "a transition from how we look at information today in a single thread—from the source of information to the user—and transforming that into information geographically oriented or oriented in the way the soldier sees it in battle space."
DOD's Kaminski said this means that soldiers on the ground in Bosnia will be able to watch in real-time video from a Predator UAV reconnaissance craft on their JBS links, providing them with eyes in the sky they never had before.
Kaminski said BC2A "combines the most advanced defense and commercial communications technologies. The system will provide our commanders with a common operational picture so that, regardless of military service or location, they will operate with the same information at the same time."
Networks Prove Tough Installation Job
Installing communications systems in Bosnia proved to be a tough logistical challenge. For example, 5th Signal has 600 personnel scattered throughout the theater. Brig. Gen. Robert Nabors, commander of 5th Signal, said it took 293 rail cars, 39 buses and two C-130 flights to move his personnel and gear from Germany to Bosnia, Croatia and Hungary.
Providing high-bandwidth circuits to and from Sarajevo ended up as one of the toughest jobs faced by the IFOR communicators, a situation acknowledged by Swann. "Sarajevo is the most challenging location we have to serve from a comm perspective. The devastation is staggering, and there is little [commercial] comm infrastructure for us to rely on."
Once in Bosnia, 5th Signal managed to jury-rig wooden platforms for its smaller satellite dishes in the IFOR compound; however, NATO and DISA had to locate their satellite links on the outskirts of the city. They used high-bandwidth, line-of-site, tropospheric-scatter satellite support radios (TSSRs) borrowed from the Air Force to bridge the 1-mile gap between the IFOR compound and the former Olympic stadium, which is the location of the NATO and DISA satellite terminals. Each TSSR can handle up to four T-1 circuits, and NATO/DISA communicators have installed four TSSRs in the IFOR compound.
Looking at the communications systems IFOR has installed in Sarajevo, Hickey said, "You need a complicated phone book just to figure out how to make a telephone call on all these systems, but it works. None of this is normal, but then, NATO has never moved a headquarters into the field before."
Doing what has never been done before is the everyday experience of U.S. and NATO computer and communications personnel supporting Joint Endeavor. From Zagreb to Tuzla, Bosnia, to Sarajevo, they routinely create new solutions and develop new doctrine based on their experiences in the real world of keeping the peace.