Army exercise puts comm to test

As part of its continued efforts in the war on terrorism, the Army is testing its latest communication technology to ensure that secure connections are always available, whether on the battlefield or at home.

The exercise, known as Grecian Firebolt 2003, is being held at Fort Meade, Md., June 9-20. It is the world's largest peacetime communications exercise and it is designed to test new communication initiatives and systems against realistic scenarios.

The Army hopes that this exercise will ensure it is able "to provide a seamless network all across the board," said Maj. Gen. George Bowman, commander of the 311th Theater Signal Command. The exercise also enables the Army to test whether its systems are interoperable with other agencies, such as the Homeland Security Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The Army is conducting testing using the Defense Collaborative Tool Suite to communicate with federal agencies. DCTS is a set of commercial products intended to enable geographically separated users to chat, conduct videoconferences and share documents, slides and applications online.

The importance of effective and secure communications to the Army's ability to function is evidenced by the $1.4 million in funding given to the Grecian Firebolt program, more than any other Reserve exercise. The money has allowed the base to purchase the latest technology in order to keep up with the needs of active military around the world.

The specific goals of the Grecian Firebolt exercise are to employ new systems, train users in new capabilities, operate at multiple command-and-staff levels, and apply modern information assurance processes.

Specifically, one improvement made to communications is the creation of a layered approach to information assurance. In the past, one security checkpoint cleared access to a broad range of information. The layered approach protects information by placing checkpoints at each layer as data is passed from one location to another.

Testing these objectives is not simply the responsibility of the 311th Theater Signal Command. The reserve unit coordinates its exercise with units from across the globe to ensure that, if called upon, different bases will be able to work in concert with one another to establish secure connections for the army to use.

"We are taking the lessons learned from the field and then refocusing on what skill sets our soldiers need to have to support the commanders in the field," Bowman said.

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