Air Force studying broader use of Direct

The faster, more accurate messaging system being fielded by U.S. nuclear-weapons forces has the potential to also be used in mobile command centers, according to Air Force officials.

The Air Force is fielding a system that provides faster transmission of emergency action messages to commanders controlling the deployment of nuclear forces. The system, called Direct, automatically prepares, processes, transmits and receives emergency action messages for nuclear forces. It also injects the messages into the appropriate communications systems, simultaneously sending messages to nuclear submarines, bombers, fixed sites and others.

Direct provides more accurate messages up to three times faster than its predecessor, the Improved Emergency Message Automated Transmission System (IEMATS), according to Ed Fitzgerald, a Mitre Corp. project leader providing systems engineer support for the program. Direct stands for Defense IEMATS Replacement Command and Control Terminal.

The system is being fielded at eight fixed locations, but Air Force officials also are studying the possibility of installing it on mobile command centers, such as the Mobile Command, Control and Communications System or airborne command centers, such as the Air Force's E-4 and the Navy's E-6. If the system proves effective on mobile platforms, it could be used for a wider range of missions rather than being restricted to strategic nuclear messaging.

"Direct provides some significant advantages over the existing system," said Steve Briggs, Direct program manager. "For one thing, while we had previously relied on manual procedures for emergency action message transmission, with Direct, emergency action operators can now process information quickly, accurately and automatically."

Direct is the first fully automated message injection system to meet all nuclear security requirements, Briggs and others said. For example, it will not allow messages to be sent to unauthorized recipients even if an operator tries either deliberately or inadvertently to do so, and it will shut itself down if someone tries to modify it.

The system will achieve "initial operational capability" by late May, meaning it will be fielded with a set of initial capabilities to be built upon later. It will likely be fully operational this fall.

The system is being installed at U.S. Strategic Command, U.S. Space Command, Joint Forces Command, European Command and Pacific Command. In addition, two systems are being installed at the nuclear command center in the Pentagon and a backup is maintained by prime contractor General Dynamics Communication Systems.

MORE INFO

Secure messaging

Direct uses Sun Microsystems Inc. Enterprise servers and Micron Government

Computer Systems Inc. PC workstations.

In addition, General Dynamics Communication Systems provided two unique

functions:

* A message-release function, which guarantees that the message on the

operator's screen has been approved for release, that it will only be released

to the proper communications systems and that it cannot be sent across unclassified

networks.

* A key-turn assembly module, which requires two operators to simultaneously

turn two keys to release the messages. The keys are worn around their necks.

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