System speeds nuclear messages

The Air Force will field a new system soon that will allow for speedier transmission of emergency action messages to commanders controlling the deployment of nuclear forces.

The system, called DIRECT, will replace the Improved Emergency Message Automated Transmission System (IEMATS). DIRECT stands for Defense IEMATS Replacement Command and Control Terminal.

By the end of the month, DIRECT will be fielded with a set of initial capabilities to be built upon later. The contract was awarded in 1996, and total system costs are about $60 million.

The system will be used "part time" at first, probably five days out of seven, while the service transitions from IEMATS, said Chuck Paone, spokesman for Air Force Electronics Systems Center, Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass. The system likely will be fully operational in August or September, he said.

According to a statement by Steve Briggs, the DIRECT program manager, the system previously relied on manual procedures for emergency-action message transmission, but DIRECT gives emergency-action operators the ability to process information automatically.

That makes it easier for operators to generate messages and correct errors, Briggs said. Messages also can be automatically compared for similarity: Two different operators independently compose an emergency-action message as a system of checks and balances. Then the two messages are elaborately encoded and must be compared to ensure that they say exactly the same thing before the order is sent.

That process previously had to be conducted manually, but DIRECT enables the messages to be compared automatically, which speeds the process while also making it more accurate and dependable. Because the messages relay nuclear commands, there is no room for error, so the increased accuracy is invaluable, Briggs said.

In addition, the system allows emergency-action messages to be inserted into several strategic communications systems, enabling messages to be sent simultaneously to submarines, bombers, fixed nuclear sites and others in the nuclear weapon control chain.

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