Success or lowered expectations?

Defense Message System messages travel over the Defense Information Systems Network, which the Defense Information Systems Agency maintains for long-haul communications.

The network distributes voice, video and data messages, and due to the volume of traffic DOD requires, DISA can contract with commercial companies such as AT&T and WorldCom Inc. and negotiate lower rates.

DOD officials seem to have given up, at least temporarily, on one of DMS' promised features: the ability for a user to send a message from his or her desktop computer directly to someone else, rather than requiring recipients to go to a message center to send or retrieve their messages.

"Many units have decided that's not the way to do it," Rear Adm. Robert Nutwell said of using DMS for individual messaging. Nutwell is deputy assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and space. That decision means officials won't be able to disband costly and manpower-intensive message centers.

In 2000, the Air Force tried to deploy DMS for individual users but retreated in early 2001, said Col. William Cooper, the Air Staff's mission systems director. "It's a pretty complex installation," he said. The Air Force is spending $95 million annually on fielding DMS.

To support writer-to-reader DMS messages, network administrators would have to install the software on their command center servers, train users and wean them off the Automatic Digital Network (Autodin). Air Force officials found that they had to do more than gentle persuasion, so they are cutting off the ability for users to write messages in Autodin in coming weeks, Cooper said.

Although the Marine Corps is keeping its message centers, Maj. Chris Michelsen, the Corps' DMS project officer, said the service plans to reassign more than 150 Marines who currently work in the centers once the move to DMS is complete. Those Marines are headed to the Marine Corps Combat Development Command and Total Force Structure Division, and some will work for the assistant chief of staff for command, control, communications and computers, he said.

Now-retired Adm. Archie Clemins, former commander of the Pacific Fleet, recommended "two or three years ago" that the Navy deploy DMS for organizational messaging but not individual messaging, said Carol Kim, assistant program manager for DMS at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, San Diego, Calif.

One of the nagging problems of using DMS for top-secret individual messages has to do with notifying personnel when they're away from their computers about urgent messages. To have the ability to notify such a user via a pager or home telephone number would ease some of these concerns. Officials at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center-Charleston (S.C.) said last year that they've tested that option as an addition to software they've developed for the Defense Department.


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