Nets aid Kosovo force

The Defense Information Systems Agency plans to insert rapid, high-power, commercial communications links in Kosovo and Macedonia to extend the Defense Department's long-haul communications network to support the peacekeeping effort in the Balkans.

The U.S. European Command (Eucom) also has started to lay the groundwork for installation of commercial communications systems throughout the U.S. sector of operations in Kosovo. These systems would hook into the 16 long-haul E-1 circuits, which are the European equivalent of T-1 networks, transmitting data at more than 2 megabits/sec.

In addition, DISA, which manages DOD long-haul networks, will install two central networking hubs, one in Pristina, Yugoslavia, and the other in Skopje, Macedonia, before the end of the month, a top Eucom official said.

"We want to commercialize our infrastructure there as quickly as possible," said the Eucom official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Eucom has issued a request for information to industry, asking for input on how best to configure a commercial network to support U.S. operations.

Pete Paulson, chief of networks at DISA, said the agency is discussing with Eucom and U.S. Army Europe how to commercialize Kosovo networks. He said DISA wants to depend on commercial products to avoid the long deployment of military tactical communications equipment and personnel DOD experienced in the Bosnian peacekeeping mission, which lasted nearly two years.

However, DISA has not decided whether the commercial backbone should be land-based or wireless.

For security reasons, key U.S. command, control and communications officials in Europe and the Pentagon would prefer to install high-speed fiber-optic networks in Kosovo and Macedonia, but industry officials view that option as prohibitively expensive in an area that lacks key communications infrastructure.

"It's not economically viable to be digging and burying fiber all over Kosovo and Macedonia," said Diana Gowen, executive director of DOD and national information infrastructure programs at MCI WorldCom Government Markets, who just returned from meetings with top signal commanders in Europe. Instead, she suggested that DOD consider installing its own microwave links to serve as a commercial backbone, which would be less expensive and quicker to install.

Industry believes DOD also should focus on other wireless solutions, including cell phones and the type of advanced point-to-multipoint high-speed wireless systems manufactured by companies such as Lucent Technologies Inc. Paulson said DISA intends to consider all options for commercialization, including wireless.

Quick Links

Meanwhile, U.S. forces entering Kosovo last week quickly deployed tactical communications systems to Kosovo and to Skopje. Skopje will serve as the main support base for operations in war-battered Kosovo.

The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, one of the first U.S. ground units to enter Kosovo, quickly fired up its "Enabler" tactical satellite communications system, which provided the Marines with high-speed links into classified and unclassified networks on the Defense Information Systems Network.

The Enabler was "one of the first pieces of equipment into Kosovo," said Brig. Gen. Bob Shea, the Marines' chief information officer and director of command, control, communications, computers and intelligence. The 26th MEU uses the system to communicate via the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, which carries classified messages, and the Non-Classified Internet Protocol Router Network, which carries unclassified messages.

The Mannheim, Germany-based Army 5th Signal Command followed closely behind the entry of Army ground troops into Kosovo, dispatching personnel and two large satellite communications packages to Kosovo and Macedonia, as well as a Tactical Operations Center. Initially, the 5th Signal Command will deploy units to Camp Able Sentry, Skopje, and to an unspecified location in Kosovo.

Capt. Marko Graham, commander of Company A, 44th Signal Battalion, said his troops will provide Army forces in Kosovo "with everything they'll need to communicate. Almost everything they would have in a garrison environment they'll have in the field," including secure and nonsecure networks, tactical satellite communications, Internet access and some video teleconferencing capabilities, Graham said.

The massive communications architecture the Pentagon deploys for the Kosovo peacekeeping mission will benefit from the beefed-up infrastructure DISA put in place to support the 77-day air campaign against Serbian forces, Paulson said. About a month before the air campaign started, DISA greatly increased its trans-Atlantic capacity between the Pentagon and major U.S. commands in Europe to handle an anticipated surge in traffic, he said.

"We knew we could not wait for the requirements to hit our desks. We had to be out there well in advance," Paulson said.

DISA added about 230 T-1 lines, providing a total of more than 350 megabits/sec of capacity. "We are now very bandwidth-rich crossing the Atlantic," Paulson said.

Art Money, the senior civilian official acting as assistant secretary of Defense for C3I, said the extra bandwidth enabled the Pentagon to more easily move around a vast amount of information, including a variety of video feeds, during the air campaign. "This was the first video war," Money said.

Intra-European and trans-Atlantic circuits fed real-time video from multiple sources to top commanders in Europe and the United States. Video included up to three simultaneous feeds from cameras mounted on unmanned aerial vehicles that sent back pictures of Serb positions. Feeds also included up to 20 hours a day of video teleconferences between top commanders.

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