DOD expands Net for ground forces

In anticipation of using ground forces as either peacekeepers or in a tactical offensive against Serb forces, the US Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) has started a massive program to expand communications services throughout the European theatre.

Although the Clinton administration has not yet made a decision to deploy ground forces to put an end to the three-month-old conflict in Yugoslavia, for the past several weeks DISA has been installing additional communications pipes to the Defense Information Systems Network.

DISA is expanding the DISN backbone from Europe to the continental US and to tactical locations throughout the Balkans and Europe, including from the UK to Germany and Germany to Italy, said George Uriona, chief of the plans division for DISA's European Field Office. When completed, DISA expects to increase the DISN infrastructure throughout the US European Command (Eucom) by 30 per cent, he said.

"We're preparing to move DISN down range" to undisclosed deployed locations throughout the Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia area of operations, Uriona said.

The network expansion could support a peacekeeping mission or a ground attack on Serb forces. "Planning is going on for every eventuality, whether it is peacekeeping or a forcible-entry operation," said Marine Lt Col. James Poleto, a senior staff officer assigned to DISA-Europe's plans division.

Another sign that the Defense Department may be preparing for the use of ground troops was the conclusion last week of a NATO exercise. Combined Endeavor '99, held in Lager Aulenbach, Germany, brought together military computer and communications specialists from 32 nations for a two-week experiment that tested interoperability among a vast array of information technologies.

"It certainly seems to be a potential indicator that things are going to happen," said Daniel Kuehl, chairman of the Information Operations Department at the School of Information Warfare and Strategy at the National Defense University. However, laying in additional tactical communications and holding the exercise "could also be use as a deterrent", he said.

As was the case during the allied intervention in Bosnia, DISA is planning to extend a commercial type of DISN to users, including services of the secure and non-secure versions of DoD's Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet and NIPRNet), videoconferencing, the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communication System and other data services.

In addition, the expansion should help alleviate critical bandwidth shortfalls throughout the theatre that make it difficult to support real-time video feeds from unmanned aerial vehicles flying reconnaissance missions over Yugoslavia and Kosovo, Uriona said.

The central focus of the expansion effort includes adding wideband communications capability to the existing infrastructure where forces are deployed. DISA currently runs E-1, T-1 and DS-3 communications pipes and plans to expand the network with additional DS-3s. DISA also is deploying OC-3 links from the theatre back to the US, Uriona said.

However, he said the possibility exists that DISA will have to extend services to locations where there is little or no existing infrastructure, which is a complicated process.

For example, DISA is installing communications pipes at what Uriona described as various Air Force "bed-down locations", which are launching points for fighter aircraft throughout Europe that have no access to DISN services. Because of security concerns, Uriona would not comment on the exact locations of these not-yet-built Air Force bases, but he did say that they are locations where "there is no backbone".

Unlike Eucom's experience in Bosnia, DoD's military operations in and around Kosovo have benefited from a more mature commercial vendor support model, according to senior officials here. "The day we walked into Albania, the Italians were there to sell us [communications services]," said Navy Capt. Arthur Cooper, the deputy J-6 for Eucom. In contrast, "when we first went into Bosnia, there was absolutely no interest by any commercial vendor whatsoever to provide any services."

It took three years for the various communications services in Bosnia to shift from military operation to commercial control, according to officials here.

Regardless of whether a political settlement or an increased use of force brings ground troops into Kosovo, the level of information services required will depend on the number of troops deployed and their final locations, Uriona said.

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