DMS makes debut in Middle East

The Defense Message System (DMS) has become the system of choice for soldiers supporting operations in Iraq, according to military officials in the Middle East.

DMS, which has been in development for more than a decade as a replacement for the Automatic Digital Network (Autodin), is faster, more secure and easier to use than its predecessor or any other similar military messaging system available to soldiers, officials say.

DOD is still rolling out DMS departmentwide, and Defense officials have said they are not fully satisfied with the system. But in February, as DOD built up its presence in the Middle East, the Army decided to take advantage of the emerging system.

Army Maj. Timothy Riley, an automation officer in the Coalition/ Joint Forces Land Component Command communications office at Camp Doha, Kuwait, said DMS, among other things, has taken the legwork out of messaging.

Before, users had to save messages on diskettes and then take them to a message center where they could be sent out, Riley said in a March 28 phone interview.

DMS messages travel over the Defense Information System Network, which distributes voice, video and data messages. DMS also allows users to send attachments.

The system — a $1.6 billion effort to secure DOD communications worldwide — is designed for sending classified and top-secret information and delivering messages to DOD users at their desktops and other agencies and contractors, if necessary.

DMS will provide the warfighter, today and in the future, with a greater capability to pass data formats across the battlefield, according to a spokesperson with the Defense Information Systems Agency. "Autodin is aging technology that could not satisfy those requirements," the spokesperson said. "Our warfighters need access to imagery and other data that cannot be transmitted through Autodin."

Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Arthur Edgeson, senior systems engineer from the Fort Detrick, Md., office of Data Systems Analysts Inc., said DMS has experienced a noticeable increase in traffic since Operation Iraqi Freedom began March 20.

DMS messages look slightly different from Microsoft Corp. Outlook messages because of the strict security parameters. However, users can compose DMS messages on computers equipped with a Fortezza PC card, which has a cryptographic token for securing messages, to sign and encrypt them.

One alternative to DMS is sending e-mail via DOD's Secret Internet Protocol Router Network. However, DMS has security features not available with SIPRNET e-mail.

"Yes, SIPRNET 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," Edgeson said.

"DMS employs hardware token-based measures [a Fortezza card] to ensure the integrity, authenticity and additional confidentiality of that information," the DISA spokesperson said. "SIPRNET e-mail does not offer that type of protection DOD-wide."

Not all current Army DMS users in the Middle East were familiar with the system, so ITT Industries Inc., which manages DMS for the service in southwest Asia, conducted training courses.

Because DMS provides secure messaging capability down to users, there is a need for increased user training and a decrease in personnel specifically required for preparation and management, according to DISA officials.

"The good news is that as DMS matures operationally, users will find that DMS is not significantly different from sending e-mail," the DISA spokesperson said.

Each military department is responsible for deploying DMS, but not every service has completed fielding it to all units. The Air Force has made significant progress, while the Army is accelerating its deployment.

Meanwhile, the Marine Corps has recently awarded a contract for its tactical equipment suites and will begin deploying DMS this summer.

"The Navy has the most challenging implementation with its ships and will begin fielding DMS to the fleets this year," the DISA spokesperson said.

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