Marines stand up alternate Y2K comm network

The Marine Corps last week conducted the first communications test of its new Headquarters Marine Corps Y2K Command and Control Network that will act as a backup communications pipe among major commands in case of widespread Year 2000-related computer failures.

The Corps plans to rely on the UHF satellite communications voice network as an added layer of redundancy to its critical C2 network. The Corps uses the network to deploy forces during times of crisis or emergency. The Marines also have set up a Year 2000 response cell that will act as the network control station and manage periodic network checks among all major commands and the Corps' Washington, D.C., headquarters.

Current plans call for the full-time activation of the alternate network Dec. 28. Regular communications checks will take place through the New Year's rollover and will continue until senior officers decide it is safe to deactivate the response cell.

Use of UHF satellite communications networks usually is restricted to an "as required" basis. According to an official Marine Corps message—sent this month to 18 commands—which outlines the plans for establishing the backup communications pipe, the UHF network "should be used only in the event that other [communications] means have failed."

Col. Kevin McHale, director of the Marine Corps' Y2K Project Office said, "In typical military fashion, we are planning for all sorts of contingencies. We are a 'belt-and-suspenders' type organization, so we have planned for backups to the backups." Although McHale added that the Corps does not expect widespread communications failures, "we would be negligent if we didn't," he said. "Better to have a plan and not have the emergency than to have the emergency and not have a plan."

Martin Libicki, a defense analyst with Rand Corp., characterized the effort as "Marines being Marines," adding "that's what we pay them for, after all."

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