DoD Intelligence Agencies Seek Joint Message System

The program will cross branches of the military so vital data can be sent to units in forward positions.
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The Department of Defense’s (DoD) intelligence agencies are working on producing a joint communications program that crosses the branches of the military so short, “flashed” messages containing vital data can be sent to units in forward positions, said a senior DoD advisor close to the project.

The project is about getting digital “information out very quickly to all the users who need the information, including the disadvantaged users at the forward edge of the battle,” said Robert Montgomery, a senior advisor to the DoD’s director of intelligence surveillance programs, who was a keynote speaker at the IEEE Broadcast Symposium in Alexandria, Va. Oct. 21. To do that, the DoD is going to a single network, he added.

Once operational, the program will transmit “raw intelligence” to forward troops who would need that data to perform their mission, said Montgomery, who is a retried Army colonel and who now supports coordination of the DoD’s intelligence department’s plans and acquisition programs. The reason raw intelligence that is not analyzed will be sent, is it takes time to analyze data and produce a report, but the troops in the field might need to have that information immediately, he said. Because time might be a factor, a communication containing raw data “might simply say something like, ‘we don’t know what they are doing, but there are people in an area who shouldn’t be there and we believe they are hostiles, but it’s not confirmed.’ A message like that might be sent to forward troops in that area because they would need to know,” he said.

Such information could come from the Air Force, Army, Marine Corp and Navy intelligence “assets,” linked to the network, and if critical information is obtained, a command message operator “can send a signal flare to their operations center that they are going to get a text message,” Montgomery said. When that happens, an attention getting Icon “will appear on their operating com picture,” he added. The Icon acts as “a quick warning light” informing the forward unit receiver that the communication has to be opened quickly.

While the DoD intelligence agencies have the basics of how a single, joint communications network should operate, in order to produce such a network, the intelligence agencies are following “four principles” to that are needed “build on,” Montgomery said. Those principles are:

Interactive broadcasts

To achieve interactive broadcasts, the DoD has to maximize its bandwidth capabilities, so it developed an integrated waveform to meet those needs. To do that a new “mil standard” (military standard document) was developed to support the integrated waveform, and the new standard “triples” existing broadcast capabilities, Montgomery said. However, while broadcast capabilities might be tripled, the messages sent over that network “will not be huge data files, just who, what, when, where and why.” They will be deliberately kept small because the network is designed to quickly notify a unit that something is going on in its area and that “we’re worried about.” With the new mil standard, the targeted date for starting interactive broadcast is 2013, but that can change, he said.

A timely message format

Because the Air Force, the Army and the Navy (the Marine Corps falls under the Navy) have their own message formats, there are three different message Icons that appear on the screens of the units of the different branches of the service, Montgomery said. In addition, while the flash Icons are different, the message might contain similar—but not identical—information. What the DoD intelligence agencies are trying to do is get the message into “one format that goes out over the network and gives that information on a common operating picture,” he said. However, a major limitation on mandating a uniform message format is that it would require expensive, new equipment, he added.

A Joint Tactical Terminal

Under a Joint Tactical Terminal (JTT) policy, the branches of the military would be required to have the same equipment, but there are systematic problems because each branch has different mission requirements. Therefore, while all the services might have the same equipment, that equipment has to meet all the requirements of all the services. Mandating that one message system meet all the services’ requirements, can make that system “truly complex,” he said.

Network control

The DoD has a network currently in place that broadcasts “over 11 million messages,” Montgomery said. In order to control those messages, they are segmented geographically so that messages dealing with the Middle East are filtered out of commands in the Pacific. However, for the network to work, flashed message that are relevant to a command’s area of operation need to be received by individual units, especially those in forward positions, he said. “That’s what it’s all about, giving the data to the tip of the spear as quickly as possible.”