Radio coverage

IP network, built to protect Iraqi elections, now covers convoys.

When the Air Force's Combined Air and Space Operations Center in Southwest Asia completed installing a radio-over-IP network in October, it placed the capstone on a project that had found a mission entirely different from the one for which it was launched.

The center finished building the Radio-over-IP Routed Network's radio towers and ground stations in September and moved the project into its sustainment phase, complete with formal project management from headquarters.

But when plans for RIPRnet first arose in December 2005, before the Iraqi elections, it was seen as an emergency, shoestring network designed to help prevent interference with the voting process. Last year, the project morphed into a network designed to cover major convoy routes in Iraq.

'In September, we finished the initial phase of RIPRnet by extending the network of towers and ground stations to cover what we intended to cover,' said Col. Ian Dickinson, the center's director of command, control, communications and computer systems.

'The network now covers the lion's share of convoy routes,' Dickinson said. 'We did this with people in the operational theater and without program management from the States.'

The next phase calls for RIPRnet to become a formal program, with sustainment funding, professional management and potential expansion through a program office.

During the 2005 Iraqi election season, senior officials sought to fend off the possibility that opponents would attempt a terrorist attack and fly an airplane into a Baghdad building, Dickinson said. 'The network was designed to enhance situational awareness so that controllers at the Combined Air and Space Operations Center could receive reports on the location of aircraft.'

The solution was to erect a dedicated IP network that could capture radio traffic and, in essence, extend the radio network.

Dickinson's predecessor, Col. Greg Touhill, was aware of experiments that had been completed in Australia for moving radio voice traffic over IP.

'We just applied that thought process in-theater and adapted it to our own requirements,' Dickinson said.

The pivotal technology for RIPRnet is a conversion box called the IP 223. 'The box takes the radio voice that originates from a handset and is transmitted to a tower, converts it to IP packets and routes it using standard IP technology across an
IP network,' Dickinson said. 'It is the equivalent of extending the reach of the handset with an extremely long cord, that cord being the IP network.'

The initial RIPRnet application was up and running in less than a week. The network subsequently evolved to provide communications with convoys throughout Iraq. Before RIPRnet, those convoys required line-of-sight access to a radio relay point in the field. The RIPRnet towers are more effective and provide wider coverage than the relay points, Dickinson said.

With RIPRnet, critical and highly vulnerable convoys on Iraq's roads need only be within range of a tower to call for a medical evacuation, report an improvised explosive device incident, or request a quick-reaction force if they come under small-arms fire, Dickinson said.

Now that the network has been completed, it has been turned over on an operational basis to the Multinational Force-Iraq. 'We are now looking for program management and long-term support,' Dickinson said. 'There is also the potential for expansion of the network to additional areas that might need coverage.'

Dickinson stressed that RIPRnet, although it started as an Air Force project, has been created, installed, used and managed on a joint basis. 'It has been applied to both air and ground missions,' he said. 'It is an example of a joint service partnership on how to apply technology to conduct military operations in Southwest Asia.'

About the Author

Peter Buxbaum is a special contributor to Defense Systems.


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