DOD boosts telecom, computers in Balkans

The Defense Department has started to beef up its computer and communications assets to support tactical and humanitarian operations in and around Albania, Macedonia and Yugoslavia, with planning for even more extensive networks under way to support ground operations in Kosovo, FCW has learned.

Defense Information Systems Agency-Europe already has started to "upgrade and augment existing infrastructure in critical locations" in Europe as well as "provisioning in theater-critical assets" at the request of the European Command, said a DISA spokeswoman, who declined to provide specific details.

But a knowledgeable source said any expansion of U.S. military and NATO networks in Europe would rely heavily on satellite communications, considering the limited commercial telecommunications infrastructure in the Balkans.

MCI WorldCom Government Markets last week received a "high priority" order for four wideband circuits from the United States directly to Heidelberg, Germany, under the National Security Emergency Preparedness service.

"Every party provisioning [NSEP] service knows it has the highest priority," said Diana Gowen, executive director for DOD and national infrastructure programs at MCI WorldCom. "If we need a local loop, Bell Atlantic has to provide it within 24 hours, and if we need a satellite circuit, [Communications Satellite Corp.] has to provide that within 24 hours."

Gowen would not speculate on how the NSEP order for four E-1 circuits, which transmit data at 2 megabits/sec, fits into a planned U.S. military network architecture for the Balkans. But a former Army Signal Corps officer who worked on development and deployment of a similar network in Bosnia said DISA-EUR and the Eucom computer and communications staff probably plan to install an extensive tactical satellite network in Albania, Macedonia and eventuality Kosovo, with that network feeding into and out of the dedicated wideband trunks to the states.

MCI WorldCom also received an order last week from the Army Air Force Exchange Service to provide pay telephone service to U.S. troops in Albania and expects to turn it on this week, Gowen said. She added that her company will use a mobile satellite terminal that had been serving the now-closed U.S. embassy in Tirana as the link for the AAFES pay phones.

The USS Nassau amphibious ready group, which put 1,000 Marines ashore in Macedonia last week, has one of the most sophisticated Navy Information Technology for the 21st Century networks afloat, according to a Navy spokesman. All three ships in that ARG - the Nassau, a helicopter carrier; the Nashville, a landing platform dock; and the Pensacola, a landing ship dock - all have high-speed 155 megabits/sec Asynchronous Transfer Mode networks and relatively wideband satellite links.

The Army already has started evaluating its computer needs for any expanded operation in the Balkans. Tom Leahy, deputy product manager at the Army Small Computer Program at Fort Monmouth, N.J., said SCP has received "informal inquiries on our ability to supply on short notice anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 laptops."

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