Videoconferencing network gives big picture of battlefield

Central Command is using Web conferencing to communicate in minutes with warfighters in Hummers, displaying inside the vehicles video feeds of the terrain around them, said a contractor who sold the backbone of the system to the U.S. Army.

The video teleconferencing network, called Battlefield Video Teleconference, had undergone severe testing at Fort Hood Army base in Texas before it was installed on servers in tactical operations centers and Hummers in Iraq, said Gary W. McGuire Sr., vice president of federal and defense sales of First Virtual Communications of Santa Clara, Calif.

"We were put through a very strong fire drill, you might say, to fix a few things they needed before the war started," McGuire said. "They tested it with heat and humidity."

The standards-based Battlefield Video Teleconference software, part of a larger contract between the Army and prime contractor General Dynamics Corp., links different vendors' hardware and software video, audio and data conferencing components in use across Kuwait and Iraq to create a massive videoconferencing network of thousands of users.

McGuire said it can stream real-time to desktops - and to mounted monitors in each of the vehicles - video that constantly shows the right and left flanks of the Hummers, also allowing tactical operators in remote tents to consolidate that video onto maps and upload them to the Hummers. It can also communicate with the Defense Collaboration Tool Set, a videoconferencing network of 8,000 ports, some of which lie in a Central Command center in Kuwait, he said.

First Virtual Communications sold 33 10-port servers to the Army to operate Battlefield Video Teleconference. Of them, McGuire said 30 were upgraded and likely deployed in the Middle East.

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