Defense's APAN links Pacific partners with the world

Defense's APAN links Pacific partners with the world

BY WILLIAM JACKSON | GCN STAFF

Congress gave the Defense Department funds for the Asia-Pacific Regional Initiative two years ago to keep military and humanitarian organizations there in touch with each other as well as with their U.S. counterparts.

Unlike Europe, the Pacific region had no network for international cooperation. DOD had to design one that did not require large investments from other countries. It also had to weigh thorny political issues in each country's decision to network with others.

'It was pretty obvious that we ought to use the Internet to communicate,' said Randy Cieslak, deputy chief information officer of the Navy's Pacific Command.

The resulting Asia-Pacific Area Network, a Web portal at www.apan-info.net, runs outside the DOD .mil domain.

'It's really a virtual network,' said John Reitz, APAN director at contractor Cubic Applications Inc. of Lacey, Wash.

Spread the word

The APAN portal lets officials from 43 countries in the CINCPAC (commander in chief, Pacific Command) region share unclassified information. It provides material about member countries, links to international organizations, and information about everything from migration to peacekeeping.

Senior officials in the region already kept in touch, but the portal has filled a communications gap for those at the staff level such as captains, majors and lieutenant colonels and their civilian counterparts.


APAN is a low-cost way for Asia-Pacific nations to keep in touch with each other and with the U.S. government.


APAN's $2.2 million budget pays for servers, software, Internet service and staff. The site runs on a single server on the PixiNet in Honolulu, a service network of Pacific Information Exchange Inc.

Plans are developing for eventually distributing the site to servers in member nations, but the CINCPAC staff wanted to get some experience with it before investing more money or asking other nations to assume responsibility, Reitz said.

'We knew this was going to be interesting, because a lot of the people we are dealing with are new to computers and the Internet,' he said.
The designers kept in mind the limitations of slow dial-up connections and expensive overseas service providers.

APAN is relatively flat, requiring little drill-through to get information.

Getting through

Because it uses Secure Sockets Layer encryption to protect links, Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.0 or Netscape 4.0 or later browsers are required.
'We don't want this totally open,' Cieslak said. 'We put the highest level of commercial security on it.'

A prototype APAN went up in March, but 'we felt it was a little difficult to use,' Reitz said. The current site went up in July 2000. By January, 31 member countries and 1,300 individual users had signed on. Members include Russia, Canada and the United Kingdom as well as 28 Asia-Pacific nations.

CINCPAC would like to get China and North Korea on board, too. 'They have shown some interest but have not signed up,' Reitz said.
Countries submit primarily text-based information by e-mail to administrators, who post it on the server. Plans include adding data collaboration, voice conferencing and perhaps videoconferencing, as well as access for national administrators to control their own data.

'But we're not there yet,' Cieslak said. 'That would involve many countries significantly upgrading their infrastructures to support robust communication.'

In its early stages, APAN 'is pretty much on-target,' he said.

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