Army taps DMS for wartime comm

CAMP DOHA, KUWAIT — The Army recently implemented the Defense Message System (DMS) to provide users here with better-protected and faster communications than e-mail over the Defense Department's Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNET).

DMS messages travel over the Defense Information Systems Network, which distributes voice, video and data messages. The system — a $1.6 billion effort to secure DOD communications worldwide — is designed to provide writer-to-reader service for classified and top-secret information, delivering messages to DOD users at their desktops and to other agencies and contractors, if necessary.

Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Arthur Edgeson, senior systems engineer at the Fort Detrick, Md., office of Data Systems Analysts Inc., said DMS became active at Camp Doha at the end of last month and has experienced a noticeable increase in traffic since Operation Iraqi Freedom began March 20.

"Yes, SIPR e-mail is classified, but it could be hacked into. Or if we're overrun by the enemy, they would have access to the computers and could send messages...to mislead or misdirect [coalition] forces," said Edgeson, who also serves as the Army DMS Program Management Office representative from Fort Belvoir, Va. He retired from active military duty in August 2001 after 23 years of service.

The Army maintains three nonclassified servers in the "DMS shelter" here separate from the DMS terminal at the command center of the Coalition Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC). Edgeson said the CFLCC terminal serves as the gateway for opening and decrypting DMS messages and those of its predecessor, the Automatic Digital Network (Autodin), and then forwards the messages to the approved recipient.

Most DOD employees have Microsoft Corp.'s Outlook for e-mail. DMS messages look slightly different from Outlook messages because of the strict security parameters. However, users can compose DMS messages on their computers and then use a Fortezza card, which has a cryptographic token for securing messages, to sign and encrypt them, a Defense Information Systems Agency official said in an interview earlier this month.

Edgeson said there are hundreds of DMS users in Kuwait, many of whom came here unfamiliar with the system. ITT Industries Inc., which manages DMS for the Army in southwest Asia, conducted training courses for those beginning users.

"The feedback was, 'It's not as hard as I though it was,'" he said. "It's basically sending e-mail with a couple of extra mouse clicks."

In addition to the increased security and authentication that DMS offers Army users at the camp, the service also is working on a solution that forward-deployed troops can use, Edgeson said.

The Tactical Message System would sit on the back of a Humvee and serve as a mobile DMS. However, that won't be available in southwest Asia until about August, he said. Currently, forward-deployed units use SIPRNET e-mail.

Edgeson acknowledged that DMS still has bugs to work out and that many DOD users remain faithful to Autodin. "DMS' biggest challenge is resistance to change. With Autodin, they say, 'This is how it's been done for 30 years and it works, so why change it?'"

But Autodin does not allow users to include attachments. It requires users to pick up messages at a central message center twice daily and is run on antiquated equipment. DMS may not be perfect, but it can send and receive all messages for both systems and deliver them to the user's desktop quickly and securely, Edgeson said.

The other military services also are using DMS, but each has its own time lines, personnel and priorities, he said.

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