DOD office to fill communications gap

The Defense Department has set up an office charged with ensuring the compatibility of communications systems across DOD, the intelligence community and NASA.

The Transformational Communications Office, headed by Navy Rear Adm. Rand Fisher, will develop a common architecture and acquisition strategy for the three communities so that information can be easily accessed and shared among the agencies.

At a Sept. 3 Pentagon press briefing, Air Force undersecretary Peter Teets, also director of the National Reconnaissance Office, said a study conducted earlier this year showed that "our baseline program plan would not meet forecast requirements and that we needed to transform our communications architecture."

The time is right, Teets said. "We now have a window of opportunity to provide an architectural framework for a compatible communications system across [DOD] and the intelligence community that could increase our capabilities by a factor of 10."

The communications office will develop a joint architecture and acquisition strategy by coordinating the development of systems under existing agency program offices using their authorities and budgets, Teets said.

"Each service or agency will remain responsible for managing their individual programs within the framework of the transformational communications architecture," said Teets, adding that although the communications office is "a joint office, it won't have acquisition authority."

Teets said the communications office will ensure that various feeder systems "connect to the warfighter and that the warfighter can get on-demand service from the communication system. When he needs something in the cockpit of an airplane, it will be there."

The office will also ensure that the protocols used in the military services, intelligence community and NASA are compatible so that when an "intelligence community analyst requests a certain piece of information from a database located a long way away, he'll be able to request it and get rapid service, as will the warfighter," he said.

If an agency is on a path to acquire systems that are incompatible with others, Teets said he would make the leaders of that agency aware of the situation.

"I don't think this is a case of arm twist[ing]; it's a case of connect[ing] with development, plans, schedules," he said.

"But remember, what this is going to do [is] bring together representatives of all of the organizations that currently are involved in communications and together come up with the architecture," said Fisher, who is also director of communications at the National Reconnaissance Office and commander of the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command's Space Field Activity in San Diego.

Jack Spencer, an analyst with the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C., think tank, said the communications office would not only help facilitate DOD's transformation, but it would also "help bring about greater jointness that the department has been trying to achieve since its inception."

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