NMCI expands classified functions in the Pacific

Battle Watch helps coordinate command and control

PH1 James E. Foehl, USN

The Navy's Pacific Region has inaugurated mission- and operations-related classified communications over the Navy Marine Corps Intranet that centralizes information technology operations in Hawaii and saves the command from having to turn to East Coast facilities for IT support.

The Pacific Theater Battle Watch was officially inaugurated May 8 on Ford Island, Hawaii. PTBW went live at the beginning of this year, following tests held at the end of 2006. The system provides coordination for Navy and Marine Corps operations in the Pacific Region.

Coast to Gulf

The Navy's Pacific Region encompasses 100 million square miles from the West Coast of the United States to the Arabian Gulf. The region includes 15 command and control centers, 190 ships, 1,400 aircraft, and 213,000 uniformed and civilian workers.

NMCI is one of the world's largest IT projects, connecting 400,000 computers and half a million users. EDS was awarded the NMCI contract in 2000. The program was troubled in its early years, as EDS wrestled with integrating or isolating thousands of older applications. However, the Navy elected to exercise options to extend the contract, which now has an estimated value of $8.8 billion.

'NMCI was originally built as an administrative system for the unclassified network and the classified network at the secret level,' said Vinnie Madsen, EDS' vice president and general manager for NMCI in the Pacific Theater. 'As NMCI matured and evolved, warfighting commands, especially in the Pacific, started using NMCI for command and control, operations and missions.'

In response, the Pacific Region decided to initiate the PTBW, in essence a large classified capability in the Pacific Theater tied to all Navy and Marine Corps command centers in the region.

'PTBW provides tighter links between command centers,' Madsen said. 'We saw the need to partner with the warfighting commands and provide situational awareness for exercises and real-world events.'

PTBW is located with the regional Oahu NMCI Network Operations Center on Ford Island. Other NMCI centers are located in Quantico and Norfolk, Va., and San Diego.

The Ford Island facility was upgraded to operate at the secret level.

'What has happened is that NMCI now provides [Secret IP Router Network] access,' said Linda Newton, deputy chief of staff for command, control, communications, computers and intelligence for the Pacific Fleet, referring to the Defense Department's classified network.

PTBW's genesis came about when Madsen was directed to build a system to support the annual 'Terminal Fury' cyberwarfare exercise in December 2006. After its success in that exercise, which simulates enemy cyberattacks on NMCI, the PTBW went live Jan. 1.

'That milestone represented PTBW's initial operating capability,' Newton said. 'We assured the viability of the network while ramping it up. What we recognized in the commissioning ceremony on May 8 was its full operational capability.'

PTBW provides enhanced communications with Navy and Marine Corps commanders in the field, Madsen said. The system provides secure and immediate voice connectivity via the Defense Red Switch Network among all command centers, headquarters and the White House.

'Commanders are able to speak with Battle Watch staff on a secure line any time, 24 hours a day,' Madsen said. EDS and subcontractor personnel work at PTBW.

Enhancing the NMCI operations center has required extensive training, Madsen said.
'The staff works 24/7, and the entire new facility is capable of operating at the secret level. Before, there was only limited capability,' he said. 'All operators at the facility can work the [Nonclassified IP Router Network] or immediately move up to the secret level without having to move from their seats.'

PTBW provides a monitoring facility where resources for information exchange, file and print services, software issues, help desk, information assurance and network operations functions are centrally located for faster problem identification and resolution.

'In the past, when warfighter command centers had issues affecting their desktops or network availability, they would often have to reach back to someone in Norfolk for assistance,' Madsen said.

'Under the previous construct, we had to reach back to the mainland and deal with time zone issues,' Newton said. 'A facility on the East Coast might not have been fully [staffed] when someone from the Pacific needed to call in. We have that capacity on Ford Island now.'

Expert advice

In addition to the immediate access afforded by the regional center, callers now deal with operators who have complete situational awareness of the network in the Pacific Region, Madsen said. 'That's what they do for a living,' he said.

'If you are a commander dealing with an issue in North Korea, there is a lot of information flowing back and forth,' Madsen said. 'In the past, if there was a need to call into the network help desk, there was a much lengthier problem identification process and there could have been be delays.

'Now there is immediate identification and the issues are resolved at high speed.

About the Author

Peter Buxbaum is a special contributor to Defense Systems.


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