[ISN] Technology Empowers Information Operations in Afghanistan

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Mon Jun 03 2002 - 03:27:01 PDT

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    [This might answer some of the questions raised in the article from 
    last week in Wired. I might add that of the many groups I am a member 
    of, the AFCEA is one that's membership has been worth every penny. 
    http://www.afcea.org   - WK]
    March 2002
    SIGNAL Magazine 2002
    By Robert K. Ackerman
    Satellite communications, Web services and imagery have come of age in
    the battlespace of operation Enduring Freedom. This first
    network-centric war has revealed an explosion in capabilities that has
    been matched by information demands at all levels of command.
    Many of these capabilities represent the fruits of technology
    investments and developments begun years ago. Both military and
    commercial satellites are whipping digital streams of voice, data and
    imagery between the United States and the theater of operations, as
    well as among units on the battlefield. Web messaging has all but
    rendered the venerable pencil and map obsolete, even at the individual
    warfighter level. National technical assets and tactical surveillance
    and reconnaissance platforms provide imagery for distribution to the
    full range of command and control nodes.
    The maturing of these technologies and capabilities has allowed the
    U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) to establish a seamless command,
    control, communications, computers and intelligence network that
    literally runs from the White House down to the foxhole.
    "Technology has allowed us to flatten the command and control
    structure," states Brig. Gen. Dennis C. Moran, USA, director of
    command, control, communications and information systems (J-6) at
    CENTCOM. "The CINC [commander in chief], because of the command and
    control system that has evolved in support of this operation, has the
    ability to reach out and get information quickly from the lowest level
    of command.
    "That has brought with it the challenge to ensure that information
    flows not only vertically but horizontally so that everybody knows the
    same thing about the same time," he adds.
    The CINC often will receive a report or a piece of information at the
    same time as intermediate levels of command, the general notes. As a
    result, the ability of intelligence specialists to collaborate quickly
    on a report has become more important.
    Operational situation reports have both operational value and
    intelligence value, and CENTCOM is following existing doctrinal
    arrangements for linking all of its forces. Operational forces report
    to a command and control node, which in turn assesses the information,
    collates it and passes it on to higher headquarters when appropriate.
    Information about the battlefield may be collected from a number of
    different types of sensors and platforms. Intelligence, surveillance
    and reconnaissance information, whether collected by national
    technical means or tactical unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), is routed
    to a command and control node.
    Some equipment in the field even allows ground-based personnel to
    locate a target and transmit its location data to a weapons platform
    for input into precision-guided munitions. This would be used by a
    U.S. Air Force forward air controller who would communicate directly
    to the aircraft.
    A tremendous amount of logistical information is moving through the
    network. A side benefit of this is that it provides asset visibility
    to virtually any level of command that requires it.
    "Gone are the days of faxing reports, posting information on maps or
    even taking down reports over the telephone," Gen. Moran declares.
    Communications in CENTCOM's area of responsibility, which encompasses
    25 countries, depend heavily on military and commercial satellites,
    Gen. Moran relates. To move information around the Afghanistan
    battlefield, planners are employing ultrahigh frequency (UHF) and
    super high frequency (SHF) tactical satellites as well as commercial
    orbiters. The general continues that these satellite links serve as
    the primary means of communication both from the United States into
    the theater of operations and from bases on the Arabian Peninsula to
    Afghanistan and its surrounding countries.
    The prime driver behind the use of satellite communications is not the
    ruggedness of Afghanistan's terrain but instead the wide dispersal of
    CENTCOM's forces. Unconventional warfare forces, for example, tend to
    operate in remote areas independently of other forces. Widely
    dispersed command and control nodes rely on satellite communications
    because they are beyond the line-of-sight distance to their
    Communications in this operation are different from others in the
    amount of bandwidth being employed, the general offers. Bandwidth
    requirements at each command and control node are considerably higher
    than previously experienced. "We always had a model that said that at
    a higher headquarters you need a lot of information; at the next level
    headquarters you need a little bit less information; and when you
    finally get down to the people operating and actually executing, you
    need only a little bit of information. What we are finding is that the
    demand for all forms of information--voice, data, video, imagery,
    topographic--is great at every level of command," he declares.
    The general continues that even the smallest command and control node
    requires nearly the same amount of bandwidth as the larger nodes. This
    runs counter to previous experiences, so CENTCOM had to resort to
    establishing bandwidth priorities and allocations for the various
    information services.
    Bandwidth allocation is the single biggest issue facing CENTCOM
    communicators in operation Enduring Freedom, Gen. Moran states. The
    command has not had enough bandwidth, particularly satellite, at the
    right place at the right time. The problem has focused mostly on the
    timing of having the right kinds of terminals at the right places as
    well as the need to sort through which communications services are
    most required at particular command and control nodes. Accordingly,
    the command has had to decide on allocating bandwidth for voice, data
    and video. Time sharing has been one remedy.
    The great demand for UHF tactical satellite communications has
    required considerable prioritization, the general continues. Newer
    technologies that provide capabilities such as demand assigned
    multiple access or narrowband satellite channels have proved very
    useful in this endeavor, he states.
    Other emerging technologies are playing a big role as well. The global
    broadcast system (GBS) has served as a method of distributing some of
    the high bandwidth products directly from the United States down to
    the lowest levels of command. It permits moving large data files on an
    as-required basis down to a command and control node. This includes
    both classified and unclassified material, the general notes. Part of
    the GBS system allows encrypted transmissions using National Security
    Agency-approved encryption, and the command is moving all types of
    information over GBS except voice transmissions. This encompasses
    Internet protocol (IP) traffic, video and large data files. GBS has
    been deployed ahead of its initial operational capability to several
    headquarters both on the Arabian Peninsula and in the Afghanistan
    The command is moving considerably more imagery than it expected, the
    general reports. This includes imagery generated from national
    technical means as well as theater-based intelligence, surveillance
    and reconnaissance systems. Some imagery is exploited within theater,
    while other imagery is sent back to the United States for storage and
    redistribution to the appropriate users.
    "We probably are getting too much information," Gen. Moran concedes.  
    "Information management down at the lowest level is probably the
    biggest challenge we face. This requires some kind of standardized
    system, procedures or business practices that help organize
    information and bring the most important information to the operator
    or the commander quicker without having to sift through reams of
    The general continues that the CENTCOM system permits a commander "at
    his or her fingertips" to reach into multiple databases through the
    secret Internet protocol router network (SIPRNET) to extract
    information. A key to success is to move to a level of knowledge
    management where information is being organized and presented to a
    commander in the appropriate way. CENTCOM headquarters is employing
    business processes to organize information in a joint operating center
    in the same manner that the information is presented to a decision
    maker. Key enablers include collaborative planning tools as well as
    tools that help organize and archive information for easy retrieval.
    "The most important technology that we have found useful is access to
    data services and Web services," the general states. "There is more
    information moving via e-mail and Web services than there ever has
    been before. Even the lowest level of command has access to secure Web
    "This is a war that is being fought on IP services," he declares.  
    "This involves movement of data, whether e-mail, Web services or large
    files. It may be more important to move a large file or an e-mail from
    one headquarters to another than to move a phone call from one
    headquarters to another."
    The general maintains that the SIPRNET is serving a much larger role
    than its nonsecure counterpart, the NIPRNET. The command monitors the
    performance of routers much more closely than it does the performance
    of switches.
    Commercial satellite telephone services also are playing a big role.  
    The general cites Iridium and Inmarsat as two systems that have been
    important to the success of Afghanistan operations. "Iridium has
    performed very well in providing secure communications between command
    and control nodes," he states. The command is encouraging as much use
    of Iridium as possible to ensure voice communications redundancy.
    The Global Command and Control System (GCCS) also has worked extremely
    well in providing a common operating picture at all levels of command
    seamlessly among each of the service-specific GCCS systems.
    "The killer apps [applications] of this war are e-mail, Web services,
    the common operating picture, the global transportation network and
    the Joint Operation Planning and Execution System, or JOPES," the
    general declares.
    One technology that has not seen action is UAV communications relay.  
    Various types of UAVs have been tested as communications relays,
    especially those with long battlefield loiter times. These could
    perform some of the same functions of communications satellites.  
    Despite the high demand for satellite communications, UAVs were never
    considered for any role as relays, Gen. Moran warrants.
    "The most important mission that UAVs have right now is for
    intelligence," he declares. No discussion of using UAVs as relays was
    ever held because the intelligence collection priority overrode any
    possibility of considering them for other applications.
    Computer network defense is a serious concern, the general allows. The
    command has employed a traditional computer network defense strategy
    with the use of intrusion detection devices and firewalls extended
    down to the lowest level. CENTCOM headquarters monitors this security
    in concert with the U.S. Space Command, and Gen. Moran reports that
    CENTCOM has seen "no significant increase in any kind of probes since
    the operation began." Similarly, no significant computer network
    defense incident has taken place since the onset of operation Enduring
    CENTCOM already had deployed land, sea and air components as part of
    ongoing operations when operation Enduring Freedom began. Joint
    procedures for land, sea and air operations had been well established.  
    As the command expanded into combat in Afghanistan, it only had to
    extend the existing joint procedures into the warfighting activities,
    the general points out. This included having a joint network. U.S.  
    Army earth terminals, for example, could be brought into Air Force
    locations and vice versa. Special operations units also were well
    integrated into the overall joint network.
    Switches, whether tactical or strategic, all have integrated well, he
    continues. The data network is seamless for nodes to which the user is
    connected. Gen. Moran relates that the command began with a fairly
    extensive network of tri-service tactical communications switches in
    theater, and it built on that network to ensure interoperability
    between newer and legacy systems.
    Some legacy challenges did arise. When introduced, secure telephone
    equipment did require configuration when operating on different types
    of networks. Operator training was necessary to enable this telephone
    equipment to interoperate with some terminals at the other end of the
    communications link.
    CENTCOM's J-6 notes that, as different elements of each service have
    been brought into operation Enduring Freedom, they have tended to be
    at different states of modernization, especially in regard to
    capabilities. This has affected tasking orders, which in some cases
    could be sent only to particular units. The general relates that some
    Army units were equipped with multiplex gear far more capable than
    that of other units, so the command had to be careful about ordering
    forces for various types of missions.
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