DOD commercializes Kosovo comm

The Defense Department has begun rapidly commercializing the communications infrastructure for U.S. peacekeeping troops in Kosovo, with satellite links, local-area networks and voice and data communications in forward base camps.

The Army also wants to quickly install commercially based cellular telephone systems to serve key leaders in the peacekeeping force, which consists primarily of troops from the 1st Infantry Division, according to Robert Gray, chief of war plans for the Mannheim, Germany-based Army 5th Signal Command, which is overseeing the commercialization efforts.

The 5th Signal Command, the tactical signal unit for U.S. Army Europe, decided to proceed with a quick installation of the equipment to meet its primary mission "of deploying tactical packages to meet the immediate need of the warfighter," Gray said.

The unit deployed a massive amount of tactical communications gear to Bosnia and saw some of it tied up there for a year, a practice 5th Signal wants to move away from, according to Maj. Al Finley, chief of 5th Signal's message systems division. "We don't want to get nailed down...because the next requirement is right around the corner," Finely said.

It took more than a year for 5th Signal to commercialize communications for U.S. and multinational forces in Bosnia. But the command completed the switch to commercial service in Kosovo in a matter of months.Commercial contractors began installing fiber-optic cables at the two base camps in Kosovo and a third in Skopje, Macedonia on Sept. 19. "The cabling guys hit the ground on Sunday," Finley said, "and we're going to build an entire infrastructure down to the user. All they'll have to do is bring their PC."

Technical and Management Services Corp. (TAMSCO), Calverton, Md., won the Kosovo contract through a competition run by the Readiness Division of the Army's Communications-Electronics Command (Cecom), Finley said. The company already has started construction on equipment shelters filled with all the equipment—including hubs, servers, switches and routers—needed to provide high-speed and high-quality commercial service.

Besides providing all this equipment, housed in 16-foot fly-away shelters, Finley said, TAMSCO also provides the three base camps with a complete service package, including network management and a help desk. Because of operational security requirements, neither Gray nor Finley provided any details on the size, capacity or bandwidth of the networks installed at the three camps.

Finley said he expects the shelters to be installed in Kosovo and Macedonia in a matter of weeks.James Lockwood, chief of Cecom's Modernization Division, said the multimedia communications fly-away packages are being built and tested at Fort Monmouth, N.J., and soon will be ready for shipment to Kosovo. Teams from TAMSCO and Engineering Professional Services will accompany the systems and will operate and maintain them at various posts, camps and stations in Kosovo.

Lockwood declined to provide details on the size of the team and its exact composition because of security concerns.

"In Bosnia, the equipment was leased from Sprint, and, in some cases, it was used equipment," Lockwood said. "In Kosovo, they're buying all new equipment and they will own it."

Both 5th Signal and the Defense Information Systems Agency already have commercialized a large percentage of their long-haul communications to and from the theater.

The Army has installed three commercial Ku-band satellite uplinks provided by Spacelink, which did similar installations in Bosnia and in Kosovo, with one system from 5th Signal providing service to Camp Bondsteel and Camp Monteith, Gray said. The Army Materiel Command, he added, installed its own commercial Ku-band terminal at Camp Monteith to support logistic requirements for the peacekeeping force.

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