Building the infrastructure
- By Bob Brewin
- Apr 25, 1999
BAHRAIN - As recently as February, Defense Secretary William Cohen described the U.S. presence in the Persian Gulf region as "temporary," but the construction boom at the Navy Central Command/5th Fleet headquarters in Bahrain belies that statement.
In the eight years since Operation Desert Storm, Navy commands have operated out of temporary office trailers and shelters, but now the main Navy compound in Bahrain looks like a New York City construction site. Piles of concrete for new buildings are interspersed among the trailers, signaling a construction program that according to the Navy will cost $36.5 million and expand the compound from 10 acres to 60 acres by year's end.
This construction cements a naval presence in the Persian Gulf that harks back more than a century to when Commodore Robert Schufeldt in 1879 sailed the USS Ticonderoga, a three-masted man-of-war, through the Strait of Hormuz on a diplomatic mission to visit Sultan Turki Ibn-Said in Muscat, Oman. The U.S. military ignored the Persian Gulf - while the region was under the sway of the British Navy - from then until World War II, when U.S. forces occupied the region to protect its oil resources. A permanent U.S. command did not exist until after World War II, when the Navy set up an operational command that eventually turned into the Middle East Task Force.
In 1972 the Navy painted the command ship USS Lasalle white to deflect the heat of the Persian Gulf, and the Lasalle started to tour the region as the Middle East Force flagship. "The Great White Ghost of the Arabian Coast" toured the region until 1993, when the command moved ashore.
Today's military has an appetite for information and images, both of which require bandwidth. The construction boom in Bahrain documents a dramatic upgrade to the command, control and communications systems and facilities at the main Navy compound, according to Cmdr. Gerta Edwards, deputy director of C3 for the 5th Fleet.
Bahrain serves as the Navy's node for all strategic services to deployed ships in the Persian Gulf, Edwards said, and not just U.S. ships. Vice Adm. Charles Moore, the 5th Fleet's commander, wanted the ability to conduct secure video teleconferencing sessions with his British counterpart in the Persian Gulf, Adm. Jan Forbes, operating on the British aircraft carrier HMS Invincible.
The installation task fell to the Bahrain Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station (NCTS). Senior Chief Robert Behm, the command, control, communications, computers and intelligence division officer of the command, led the installation team on the Invincible.
"They had a NATO-standard terminal," Behm explained, which meant that all the NCTS team had to do was install a U.S. military modem and cryptography devices. "It took two days to do the installation," he said, followed by a pier-side test in early February and an at-sea video teleconference later in the month. "This is the first time a U.S. earth station has brought in a [video teleconference] from a British shop," Behm said, "and we can now bridge the Invincible directly to our ships in the Gulf."
Supporting such teleconferences required the installation of a Defense Information Systems Agency Commercial Satellite Communications Initiative satellite terminal in February 1998 and construction of a second Defense Satellite Communications System terminal last month. These enhancements have provided a quantum leap in bandwidth into and out of the theater.
The CSCI installation boosted capacity by an additional eight T-1 circuits linked directly to a termination point "inside the Beltway," Edwards said. The second DSCS terminal provides another five T-1 circuits over an Indian Ocean satellite.
The 5th Fleet compound also houses two satellite terminals capable of accessing Extremely High Frequency transponders on Defense Department-owned advanced-technology Milstar satellites. Lt. Milton Lockley, who manages satellite communications for the N6 staff, described these as "the Cadillac of satellites."
Lockley said the Milstar terminals are "at the forefront of our capability to deliver tactical data" to deployed ships. He declined to identify the kind of tactical information the 5th Fleet sends over the Milstar terminals. But sources said the Navy uses the Milstar circuits to update targeting data in the control systems of Tomahawk missiles carried by cruisers and destroyers operating in the Persian Gulf.
Besides satellite upgrades, the 5th Fleet also has boosted the capability of the command's local-area network, Edwards said. The units have worked with the NCTS staff to install a LAN to serve the headquarters compound. The network is based on the Navy's Information Technology for the 21st Century, an initiative to create a standard set of networks aboard ships and ashore, based on commercial PCs and networking technology.
Cmdr. Jim Sass, the 5th Fleet Information Warfare Systems Officer, said the IT-21 LAN provides 275 Secret Internet Protocol Router Network drops, another 125 Non-Classified Internet Protocol Router Network drops and a fiber-optic Asynchronous Transfer Mode backbone that eliminates "an Ethernet kludge."
RM1 Kirk Harrison of NCTS said his command has gone through its own system upgrades to keep pace with the increase in bandwidth available to the 5th Fleet, increasing the number of routers that serve headquarters to 17, beefing up the number and power of domain name servers, adding IDNX multiplexers and installing a Navy-developed automated digital network system that provides higher throughput and better connectivity for deployed ships in the Gulf.
Chief Glenn McDaniel, NCTS assistant operations officer, said the digital network system that routes traffic to and from the small ships via an International Maritime Satellite provides the "small decks with services they never had before. They are now tied directly into the Bahrain LAN."
These upgrades, funded by the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, have propelled the Navy's Bahrain headquarters into the status of what Edwards described as "one of the three strategic nodes in the Gulf - with the other two [at] Riyadh [in Saudi Arabia, primarily serving the Air Force] and Camp Doha in Kuwait." The network upgrades also bring 5th Fleet systems "closer to parity with the [Atlantic and Pacific] Fleet," Edwards said.