First step: Defense bandwidth

The Army wants to transform itself into a lightweight fighting force capable of rapid deployment to military trouble spots anywhere in the world. That's a laudable goal. As the service moves its sights away from the monolithic menace of the former Soviet Union and toward smaller, hotter and more widespread threats, it will require an entirely different system of mobilization.

As new Army chief of staff Gen. Eric Shinseki pointed out, a new generation of technology tools will be necessary to achieve the "agility and versatility" to meet those demands. Only with the best information technology and communications tools at its disposal will the Army be able to make the best decisions on how to move its costly forces across the global terrain of potential conflicts.

But of all the technology tools on the service's wish list, none is more critical - or more useful - than simple network bandwidth. Just as in civilian affairs, military operations are becoming more and more "network-centric."

Currently, the military relies on communications gear housed in shelters and mounted on 5-ton trucks. Those large systems are necessary to support the current generation of low-powered satellites the military relies on to support its worldwide communications.

But if the Army wants to put a brigade in Asia in a matter of days, it will need more bandwidth than those last-generation communications systems can supply. A new system of lightweight ground equipment and high-powered satellites will be necessary to support the new military mission.

Should the military want to build such a system, it would cost billions of dollars. But in the meantime, it's time for the service to consider moving some of its tactical communications systems to commercial platforms.

Although it would cost millions to support, it's a reasonable interim step to take on the path toward acquiring the critical additional bandwidth.

Given the changing missions of the Army, buying additional commercial bandwidth may be as important as acquiring an F-22.

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