Pacom's Shea tackles tri-service comm challenges

HONOLULU - It is no surprise that the Pacific Command (Pacom) the military organization that manages land sea and air forces with responsibility for 100 million square miles of the Earth's surface would require extremely reliable and effective communications. That explains why Col. Robert Shea director for command control and communications (C3) says he has "the best job in the Marine Corps."

Ensuring communications among the tri-service elements scattered across such a vast arc of the Earth is a job Shea described as one "where something needs to be solved every day."

Shea brings a wealth of experience to the task he has served in jobs such as commander of the Marines' Command and Control Systems School at Quantico Va. and commander of the 9th Communications Battalion during Operation Desert Storm.

But besides giving him a job he loves the Pacom assignment has provided Shea with a wealth of opportunities - if not a lot of time - to engage in his favorite off-duty form of relaxation: golf. The climate also gives him a lot of opportunity to coach his son in football. His other diversions include reading military history and technology.

Sources who know Shea and admire his abilities speculate that his stint at Pacom C3 could also lead him to the rank of brigadier general - if the Corps drops a long tradition of promoting only grunts to general.Now that Congress has allowed the Marines to increase the number of their generals - primarily to fill joint slots such as the one Shea holds - some sources bet Shea could grab a star. "Bob Shea is without a doubt the most qualified communicator in the entire Marine Corps " said one Washington D.C.-based source.

A Thorny Start

Shea arrived on the shores of the Pacific after leaving the halls of Quantico in July 1995 and has taken on some thorny issues associated with his current job. He said even his 25 years of experience did not completely prepare him for some of the situations he has encountered.

For example Pacom units routinely conduct exercises with allies in the region and literally have to buy rights to use radio frequencies in some areas to support those exercises he said. "[Radio] spectrum is an economic issue out here [and] we have to buy a portion at the beginning of each year " he said. This translates into a direct monetary hit on Pacom's operating budget and Shea said he worries that spectrum charges "could drive the cost of exercises through the roof."

Shea looks at the planned multibillion- dollar Global Broadcast Service satellite system - which will be owned and operated by the Defense Department - with the same bottom-line approach. "Who [in DOD] is going to pay for GBS?" he asked. "We like GBS...but we want to see the options we want to be able to make choices and trade-offs. We have to be smart about this."

Shea pointed out that satellite communications provide Pacom with more of its connectivity than other theaters for a simple reason: "There's a lot of blue water out here and we have limited terrestrial capability " he said. "We rely on satellites."

And while Shea views commercial satellite service including planned low- Earth orbit systems as part of the logical communications mix for the command he also warned that commercial service "is not a panacea due to security issues."

A How-To Is Helpful

Installing bigger and faster communications pipes will not improve Pacom's C3 capabilities unless it is accompanied by a disciplined approach to its use according to Shea and his boss Adm. Joseph Prueher Pacom's commander in chief (CINC). In Prueher's view Pacom circuits are most often used to move raw data not information that is valuable to the warfighter.

Shea concurred saying the command and its operational units need to develop a way to manage that data before it is sent to a satellite uplink. "We have too much redundant information " he said. "Information needs to be fused so we can reduce demands on bandwidth."

This problem grew out of the limited amount of bandwidth in the theater serving forward-deployed units Shea said. "We have a superhighway to the CINC a two-lane highway to the [Joint Task Force] and a cowpath down to the brigade level " he said.

Shea said he views video teleconferencing as "an absolutely critical command and control tool in this theater " but he expressed frustration with what he termed a "kludge" of disparate systems. Pacom makes its VTC system work only by application of "brute force " he added.

Due to the numerous bilateral agreements with allies throughout the command as well as the number of operations Pacom units conduct with those allies Prueher needs a VTC system that easily interfaces with other federal agencies such as the State Department Shea said. Prueher he added also wants a VTC "he can dial as fast as a phone."

In the computer area Shea would like to push the command to adopt a PC client/server architecture with the ability to work as well in the field as in headquarters compounds in Hawaii.

"Unix is OK for heavy users but warfighters want PCs " he said. "They want to be able to put all their applications on PCs and then take them to the field."

Shea said Pacom headquarters was awash in 386-based PCs when he first arrived. "But we're getting rid of them " he asserted. "It's expensive with upgrades going first to high-priority users."Now that Shea has started an upgrade program he said he would like to see the command "turn over PCs every three years.

Featured

  • FCW PERSPECTIVES
    sensor network (agsandrew/Shutterstock.com)

    Are agencies really ready for EIS?

    The telecom contract has the potential to reinvent IT infrastructure, but finding the bandwidth to take full advantage could prove difficult.

  • People
    Dave Powner, GAO

    Dave Powner audits the state of federal IT

    The GAO director of information technology issues is leaving government after 16 years. On his way out the door, Dave Powner details how far govtech has come in the past two decades and flags the most critical issues he sees facing federal IT leaders.

  • FCW Illustration.  Original Images: Shutterstock, Airbnb

    Should federal contracting be more like Airbnb?

    Steve Kelman believes a lighter touch and a bit more trust could transform today's compliance culture.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.