Oceans apart, Navy sailors see eye-to-eye via videoconferencing

Videoconferences let commanders carry out
routine meetings.






The service wants all its ships and submarines to have videoconferencing systems by
2003. The Video Teleconferencing (VTC) Project is part of the service’s Information
Technology for the 21st Century initiative, said Adm. Archie Clemins, commander of the
Navy’s Pacific Fleet, at last month’s Naval League Convention in Seattle.


“We will expand our connectivity to the world from a select number of room, cart
and standalone desktop units here at fleet down to select staff LAN machines that we
identify as needing a rapid face-to-face communications tool,” he said.


The Navy’s videoconferencing systems range from room-sized to portable cart and
desktop systems for forces both ashore and afloat. But the technology for the most part is
migrating toward asynchronous transfer mode systems that run on desktop PCs, Clemins said.


“Our vision is to deliver reliable VTC technology down to the desktop, using
commercial products that run on IT-21 workstations,” Clemins said. “These units,
installed on select PCs, will leverage our ATM LAN and metropolitan area network
architecture and deliver new full-motion, full-duplex audio, video- and dataconferencing
in point-to-point and multipoint fashions.”


To enable the IT-21 PCs, which run Microsoft Windows NT, to handle videoconferencing,
the Navy uses the International Telecommunications Union’s H.323 standard for the
exchange of real-time voice and video over networks and an H.320 standard gateway that
supports dial-up connections for classified and unclassified conferences.


Pacific Fleet has 4500 Series videoconferencing systems from PictureTel Corp. of
Andover, Mass., installed aboard its flagships, carriers and amphibious vessels. The
systems communicate via the Navy’s Video Information Exchange System (VIXS).


VIXS consists of shipboard H.320-compatible carts that are connected to the Defense
Satellite Communications System or commercial Challenge Athena C Band Super-High Frequency
terminals and to H.323-compatible multipoint control units ashore.


The VIXS hubs in Hampton Roads, Va.; Oahu, Hawaii; Bahrain, Iran; and Naples, Italy;
have Integrated Services Digital Network dial-up access ports and provide support for the
proprietary PictureTel SG-3 algorithm at speeds of 112 Kbps to 384 Kbps.


As part of the VIXS architecture, all of Pacific Fleet’s ships with
videoconferencing systems use PictureTel 4500 or similar cart systems. Some Navy and
Marine Corps shore facilities use Rembrandt VTC systems from Compression Labs Inc. of San
Jose, Calif.


“Various other vendors are capable of the H.320 standard, however, proprietary
algorithms are preferred when like terminals are connected,” according to the
service’s Information Technology Standards Guidance. The Navy chief information
officer’s Board of Representatives in May laid out the videoconferencing standards in
the ITSG.


Clemins’ staff helped draft the ITSG, which recommends a number of
videoconferencing standards, including H.320, H.321, H.323, H.324 and T.120. They comprise
the core technologies for current and emerging Navy and Marine Corps videoconferencing
applications.


The T.120 standard covers real-time dataconferencing.


The H.320 standard details narrow-band telephony and terminal equipment over dedicated
and switched services, such as ISDN. The H.321 and H.323 standards include video
communications for LANs, and the H.324 standard covers high-quality video and audio
compression over modem connections.


“The basic philosophy here is to ride industry and push them along to achieve the
best commercial VTC products available on the market,” Clemins said. “We’re
doing that now and look forward to first quarter 1999 delivery of high quality NT VTC
products that will run over native ATM at 30 frames per second.”


The Navy saw the first tangible benefits of videoconferencing during the Taiwan Straits
crisis in early 1996, when Clemins was commander of the 7th Fleet. He and his staff used
the technology to reduce planning time from days to hours.


Videoconferences let the U.S. commander-in-chief Pacific, the Pacific Fleet commander
and the 7th Fleet commander carry out routine meetings as they are needed.


“Since 75 percent of all human communication is nonverbal, videoconferencing
enabled the full range of communications through facial expression, tone of voice and body
language,” Clemins said. “VTCs allowed my staff to fully understand the
intentions and know what information to pull.”


Under the Defense Video Service-Global contract awarded to AT&T Corp., the Navy
last month began migrating dedicated videoconferencing rooms to hubs in Atlanta, Oahu, San
Diego and Washington. 

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