Information suite has four-star beta tester

Joint Forces commander Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, who demanded more bandwidth on the road, tested JSIC's executive information suite.

The new Joint Systems Integration Command in Suffolk, Va., has 160 computer and communications engineers working on 'near-term insertion, within one year' of prototypes to close technology gaps in the field. It also gets unusual support from top-brass beta testers, its new commander says.

Previously known as the Joint Battle Center, JSIC used to focus on assessing the interoperability of commercial IT products. 'We evolved to pick up the prototype mission,' said Col. Michael Bradley. Of the center's 60 noncontractor staff, half are military 'to provide a tactical flavor,' he said. 'There are a lot of advanced degrees.'

JSIC's most recent prototype is an executive information suite'a command and control kit that gives deployed commanders a virtual private network link back to their desktop PCs at headquarters.

The kit now handles classified as well as unclassified transmissions by satellite. Its next version will support unclassified voice over IP and secure wireless voice access to the Defense Red Switched Network using National Security Agency-approved en- cryption, said Cmdr. Donna Cannon, the program manager.

'We've been delivering it to joint task force commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan and to one joint commander in Europe,' Bradley said. 'We sent out teams that spent about six weeks on the ground' installing, troubleshooting and teaching users how to operate the executive suite. Its 35-pound hardware kit in a prewired case can be carried in a backpack and pointed at a satellite in about five minutes, he said.

Commanders in Afghanistan are using it more than those in Iraq, who tend to stay longer in fixed locations.

Asked how he enlisted testers, Bradley said the command first tested it on Joint Forces commander Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, who travels frequently and finds low bandwidth at hotels.

'We developed the kit, and he showed it off to other four-stars,' Bradley said. 'He forces us to develop things that are user-friendly.'

JSIC is 'not a fielding agency,' Bradley added, and its prototypes 'don't compete with the services' acquisition cycles.'

A second JSIC project involves C2 on the move. 'There was a significant shortfall' in allied commanders' data communications in Iraq, program manager Lt. Cmdr. Steve Fahey said. 'So we did a rapid integration of commercial and government hardware and software' for an initial proof-of-concept prototype that so far can download about 3 Mbps to a moving vehicle and upload 256 Kbps via satellite.

The next prototype, which will get limited field testing, will handle up to 10 Mbps downloads and 512 Kbps uploads for two-way audio, video, imagery and other elements that help military planners develop a common operational picture of a battlefield, Fahey said.

The prototype uses a spread-spectrum modem similar to those for commercial third-generation cellular networks. It re- quires a 24-inch parabolic antenna on the vehicle, plus the networking gear 'in a transportable package the size of a large TV,' Fahey said. 'It's primarily intended to take care of the joint commander, but there are many areas of applicability. It scales very well.'

JSIC is working on the prototype with the Army Battle Lab at Fort Gordon, Ga., and the mobile C2 setup eventually might be used down to the battalion level, Bradley added. 'We try to get as much joint involvement as possible. They're aware of what we're doing, and we're aware of what they need. We hope to put something out there by the end of 2005.'

A third JSIC project in December brought together 34 C2 program managers from all the services, plus their lead engineers, in a virtual joint task force headquarters with 34 replicated systems. The participants tested 500 data exchanges in simulated intelligence operations. 'About 90 percent of them passed,' Bradley said.

While the participants were all together, 'they went to work right away to fix problems on the spot,' said Penny Powell, director of the command's interoperability demonstrations group. She said such a gathering of C2 program managers was unprecedented.

The command now is using real feeds to test the fixes, Powell said.

Within a few years, she added, practice should make the group expert at joint mission thread execution. And she and others at JSIC are hoping to see joint interoperability built into more systems during development, instead of retrofitted afterward.

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