Peacekeeping in the Pacific

The "tyranny of distance" has confounded United States commanders trying to control forces scattered over the 100 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean for almost a century.

Ever since Dewey's Great White Fleet sailed into Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War U.S. forces have turned to technology to tame the vast reaches of the Pacific - an arc of earth so large that the sun simultaneously rises and sets over U.S. forces scattered from the east coast of Africa to the west coast of the continental United States.

Morse code punching in staccato bursts through the ether and across the Inter-national Date Line helped shrink that distance resulting in the first "real-time" command and control system. Undersea cables proved expensive and offered only limited capacity.

In 1964 the Army Communications Command inaugurated the era of operational satellite communications quickly deploying an experimental satellite terminal from the United States to the Tan Son Nhut airfield in Saigon providing two clear channels between Vietnam and the Pacific Com-mand's headquarters in Hawaii.

Since then the Pacific Command has embraced first advanced satellite and then fiber-optic communications systems to control forces across distances that still require taming. The economic importance of the Pacific and its potential for conflict drive commanders and their information technology specialists to find better and faster ways to move high-value real-time information. The result has been a user-driven technology revolution that promises to change the way the Navy and perhaps the entire military uses IT. It also has brought about a far-flung IT infrastructure that pushes an IT vendor's traditional support structure to its limits.

This special supplement based on 25 000 miles of travel to report on IT personnel and systems in the Pacific highlights efforts by commands throughout the theater to adapt today's technology to an age-old problem: of conquering time and distance.

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