Defense makes critical system switch to GCCS
- By Paul Constance
- Aug 05, 1996
The Pentagon held its breath last month and switched to the Global Command and Control
System, ending one of the most sensitive system cutovers in Defense Department history.
The 20 Honeywell mainframes that host GCCS' venerable predecessor, the Worldwide
Military Command and Control System (WWMCCS), are still humming and will provide backup
for an indefinite period.
But crucial Joint Operational Planning and Execution System (JOPES) databases now are
stored on GCCS' Sun Microsystems Inc. servers and are no longer being updated on WWMCCS,
according to sources at the Defense Information Systems Agency.
That means that if the United States were to come under attack tomorrow, senior
officers at the Pentagon's National Military Command Center would use GCCS to visualize
the threat, plan a response and coordinate deployment of troops and weapons.
GCCS sits at the pinnacle of the Pentagon's command-and-control pyramid, feeding on
data and imagery from the national intelligence agencies and each of the armed services'
GCCS was supposed to come on line last summer. But its role at the nerve center of U.S.
military readiness led the regional commanders-in-chief (CINCs), its primary users, to
demand extraordinary reassurances before they would give up the primitive reliability of
DISA, which oversaw GCCS development, had to contend with predictable grumbles from
5,000 WWMCCS operators worldwide, many of whom were skeptical of GCCS. There also were
problems with the IP addresses of early GCCS users on DOD's Secret IP Router Network
(SIPRnet), software snags at the interface between GCCS and legacy service systems, and
the eternal challenge of synchronizing incompatible commercial databases.
Then, during Operation Joint Endeavor, GCCS got an unexpected opportunity to shine in a
real operational setting. Though it still was used alongside WWMMCS, Bosnia marked a
turning point in acceptance of GCCS, according to a senior DISA official close to the
"The chiefs wanted a system capable of doing crisis planning," the official
said. "Their biggest concern was that we would be able to stay on top of the
technology and provide fault-free support. In Bosnia, they saw GCCS being used, and they
saw our ability to implement software fixes through a disciplined process."
In June, DISA began a run-through operational test intended to spot and iron out any
remaining wrinkles. Early last month, after the CINCs indicated that they were comfortable
with the June results, DISA began a second operational test, in which existing operations
plans were shifted from WWMCCS to GCCS.
DISA sources said they have absolute confidence in the redundancy safeguards that will
keep GCCS running even if several of its 37 initial operating sites are destroyed.
"Even if you had a catastrophic failure on GCCS, we would be able to fire up the
WWMCCS Information Network, transfer over the operations plans and be back in operation
within 24 hours," the DISA official said.
Though only five full-time technical support technicians staff the GCCS Management
Center's around-the-clock, toll-free help desk in the Pentagon, they are bolstered by more
than 70 contractor technicians who are on call every day of the year. Indeed, industry
sources said GCCS probably has more mainstream commercial software and hardware than any
comparable system to date.
Asked if he ever worried about GCCS' dependence on commercial technical support, the
DISA official said absolutely not. The contractors "know that troops will die if they
don't adequately support this system," he said. "They are aware of the
implications and totally committed."