Coalition network unites forces

Afghan Mission Network facilitates collaboration with coalition partners while securing sensitive information
By Amy Walker

Not only does the Afghan Mission Network (AMN) enable the Coalition to share critical battlefield information among its 45 partners, it also allows the Afghan government and military to utilize some of that information to help bring peace to the region. 

Using the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Secret Network as the backbone, AMN marries network extensions from each participating nation. From their respective secure networks, and at their individual discretion, separate Coalition forces can now share data, situational awareness and Commander’s intent across the battlefield on a centralized network. AMN enables the 45 nations of the Coalition to unite and fight the enemy as a single force, leveraging the combined strength of each partner.  

“The British in the north need to be able to share information with the Afghan National Army down in Kabul or down in Kandahar,” said Sgt. Maj. Anthony B. Miller, G6 Sergeant Major, U.S. Army Africa, a recent AMN user in Afghanistan. “The Afghan Mission Network is a combat enabler that gives us an advantage over the enemy.”

The Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System (CENTRIXS)-ISAF (CX-I) secure network is the U.S. component of AMN. Nearly 85 percent of the data in Kabul, Afghanistan available for U.S. forces on U.S. Secure Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRnet) is now available on CX-I.

“There are a lot of decisions and information that the Afghan government and military wouldn’t have been privy to if we kept it only on the U.S. network,” said Miller, who also served as the signal chief (S3 SGM) with the 51st Expeditionary Signal Battalion while deployed to Iraq and the 1st Sergeant for the 580th Signal Company in Afghanistan. “Building a Coalition network allows us to share information back and forth on the network and allows us to not only monitor it, but also control it.”

Because the U.S. controls its own portion of the network, it also controls the information it wishes to disseminate, so it can decide what data to “push down and share with its partners,” he said. The Afghan National Army furnishes the infrastructure to enable the U.S. and other Coalition forces to provide them with relevant, though selective, data and situational awareness, which does not compromise the security of any partner including the U.S. The Afghan National Army can then respond, making crucial decisions based on current and comprehensive data.

“It’s going to allow us to share information over a battlefield, so it will enable us to allow the Afghan military to make the signals utilizing shared information, not only from the U.S. but our Coalition partners as well,” Miller said.      

The Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T) continues to field and support CX-I for troops deploying into theater. United States Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) funded PEO C3T and PEO Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors (IEW&S) to provide equipment to units already in the Combined Joint Operational Area - Afghanistan.  Each force package unit is either fielded or on a fielding schedule for all AMN equipment. 

“On the battlefields of Afghanistan, AMN has transformed the way Coalition Commanders share information,” said Brig. Gen. N. Lee S. Price, PEO for C3T. “Independent discussions and planning efforts between separate Commanders of different nations have been replaced by data sharing across AMN.”

During a visit to Afghanistan in December 2010, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli emphasized "ramping up" pre-deployment requirements on CX-I. PEO C3T is engaged with the Combat Training Center Division (CTCD); PEO Simulation, Training and Implementation (STRI); and the Department of the Army's G3 to further enhance CX-I in the continental U.S. for pre-deployment training. These enhancements will allow connectivity to the live network, so full mission rehearsal exercises (MRXs) can be conducted on the CX-I environment. Reception, Staging, Onward-movement & Integration (RSO&I) time will be reduced for units when they arrive in Afghanistan due to these efforts. With a resident CX-I presence, Combat Training Centers can highlight critical training to effectively and securely move data from the U.S. SIPRnet to the CX-I network.

“In Regional Command [RC] South, the Canadian, British, Australian and U.S. Forces are sharing data at an impressive rate,” Price said. “Today, a foreign Commander in RC North is communicating on the same enclave as his subordinates from separate nations.” 

Currently, Soldiers are receiving CX-I training in the continental U.S. Upfront efforts to build a standardized enclave have minimized training burdens which will yield cost savings for present and future CX-I use. Since the baseline of CX-I was developed to look very similar to SIPRnet, users have a nearly flat learning curve when moving from SIPRnet to CX-I operations. So, Soldiers mostly need to learn what information they can and cannot share from SIPR on CX-I. In Afghanistan, they are becoming familiar with NATO applications on AMN as well, which are not standard to the U.S.

In 2010 PEO C3T,  together with PEO IEW&S and U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) J2/J3/J6, migrated all appropriate mission-critical U.S. Command and Control and Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance systems from the SIPRnet to CX-I. For their efforts in standing up CX-I, PEOs C3T and IEW&S received the 2010 David Packard Award for Acquisition Excellence.

“All parties working on AMN have been focused on innovative and collective solutions to extend the networked data feeds,” said Lt. Col. Robert Backman, the first liaison officer deployed to Afghanistan to ensure the delivery and compatibility of deployed PEO IEW&S systems. 

The team equipped its first unit, the Second Stryker Cavalry Regiment (2SCR), with CX-I during its mission readiness exercise in Germany in March of 2010. The endeavor was completed quickly, approximately one month after the USFOR-A operations order establishing AMN was signed, enabling the regiment to meet its training exercise timelines. 

In engineering a coalition data sharing solution for 2SCR, rather than purchasing new equipment, the team extensively re-used and reconfigured existing network equipment to operate on CX-I. The five year sustainment cost of reusing equipment versus buying entirely new equipment represents a savings of more than $15 million. The total savings that will be achieved by using the CX-I solutions engineered by the PEO C3T and PEO IEW&S team nears $58 million.  

“Before the Afghan Mission Network…you had a U.S. network, a British network, and every other force that fell under ISAF had its own network,” Miller said. 

That meant the Coalition did not easily share information, and Commanders had to gather at a central location to discuss plans without the use of advanced technology. At the time, one of their only viable alternatives was to share mission-related information via Sneaker net. This cumbersome practice called for the Warfighter to transfer information onto removable media and manually move it from one system to another, which often is not secure, is very labor intensive, and prohibits information from being shared in a timely manner. In many cases, the Coalition could not access the information needed and experienced long delays. AMN marks a strategic shift in the sharing of data, stepping closer to President Barack Obama’s vision of the Coalition becoming “full” partners.

The Coalition footprint is much smaller in Iraq, where the U.S. led the mission and oriented the Iraqi Army until Operation New Dawn.

“That’s not the case here,” said Jennifer Zbozny, chief of the technical management division of PEO C3T. “Efforts need to be completely integrated across all Coalition partners.”

AMN’s ultimate objective is complete sharing of all essential data including situational awareness, command and control and intelligence. Afghanistan is a theater of operations much different than that to which the U.S. is accustomed, Zbozny said. 

“We do not command most of the regional commands in Afghanistan today, which is different than Iraq,” she said. “[In Afghanistan], you can have Army units that are working in a regional command that’s commanded by the Germans, Italians or Canadians. The end game needs to be an integrated fight.”

One of the most important capabilities in an operation is to understand the Commander’s intent.  AMN facilitates a common, shared intent by each Coalition command. The network’s accessible data, services and transport will allow Soldiers and Commanders to fight more effectively by obtaining common situational awareness of the events on the battlefield.

The consensus is that the AMN will have an escalating positive effect on ISAF operations. 

“Being able to get that kind of granularity and fidelity out early and often in a common view in the same timeframe to all subordinate Coalition Commanders is just fundamentally game-changing to how we prosecute a Coalition operation in Afghanistan and beyond,” said Dr. Richard Wittstruck, chief systems engineer for PEO IEW&S.

Now that U.S. and Coalition forces can share critical information over AMN, the assets of many nations are uniting into a single cohesive force, taking full advantage of the combined strength and battlefield intelligence of each partner.

“We talk about fighting as a Coalition; this time we will make it a standard way of doing business,” Backman said. “I think it will keep on growing and change the way we fight in the future as this war and future wars will not be a U.S. only, but truly a coalition environment.”

About the Author

Amy Walker is a staff writer for Symbolic Systems, Inc. supporting the Army’s Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T). This special report was commissioned by the Content Solutions unit, an independent editorial arm of 1105 Government Information Group. Specific topics are chosen in response to interest from the vendor community; however, sponsors are not guaranteed content contribution or review of content before publication. For more information about 1105 Government Information Group Content Solutions, please email us at [email protected]