New Afghan Network Supports Coalition Sharing

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md., March 9, 2011 — A new net­work that pro­motes infor­ma­tion and intel­li­gence shar­ing among coali­tion part­ners in Afghanistan is improv­ing sit­u­a­tion­al aware­ness and lay­ing a foun­da­tion for future coali­tion oper­a­tions, an offi­cial involved in stand­ing up the net­work said.
The Afghan Mis­sion Net­work, slat­ed to reach full oper­a­tional capa­bil­i­ty this sum­mer, gives the Unit­ed States and 45 part­ners in the NATO-led Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force the oppor­tu­ni­ty to link up over a com­mon mis­sion net­work, Richard Wittstruck, chief engi­neer for the Army’s Pro­gram Exec­u­tive Office – Intel­li­gence, Elec­tron­ic War­fare and Sen­sors, told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice.

That’s a first for the alliance, he explained, enabling mem­bers to share mis­sion-relat­ed data that pre­vi­ous­ly had been restrict­ed to their indi­vid­ual secure net­works.

Army Gen. Stan­ley A. McChrys­tal, for­mer com­man­der of U.S. and ISAF forces in Afghanistan, and U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand head­quar­ters pressed for the com­mon net­work to bet­ter man­age com­mand and con­trol and share intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance infor­ma­tion, Wittstruck said.

When it reached ini­tial oper­at­ing capa­bil­i­ty last sum­mer, the net­work was typ­i­cal­ly used to enable coali­tion part­ners to share cal­en­dars, meet­ing announce­ments and oth­er admin­is­tra­tive details and to inter­face through chat rooms and “white­board­ing” ses­sions.

But as the Unit­ed States began post­ing oper­a­tional infor­ma­tion, includ­ing data from its intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance sources, Wittstruck said, coali­tion part­ners began fol­low­ing its lead.

“Peo­ple began shar­ing things they had nev­er shared before,” he said. “Now, every­one sits back and says ‘Wow, look at what we did­n’t know about the com­plete pic­ture. Now look at how much bet­ter we all are in doing this.”

This new col­lab­o­ra­tion gave bat­tle­field com­man­ders an unprece­dent­ed lev­el of sit­u­a­tion­al aware­ness. “If I’m a com­man­der on the ground, I want to know every­thing that is going on in my area of respon­si­bil­i­ty,” Wittstruck said. “I would like access to what every­body has col­lect­ed in that area of respon­si­bil­i­ty and get a com­plete pic­ture of the threat.”

But get­ting the U.S. frame­work in place to sup­port the net­work took a her­culean effort by Wittstruck’s orga­ni­za­tion as well as Pro­gram Exec­u­tive Office Com­mand, Con­trol and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions – Tac­ti­cal.

Imme­di­ate­ly after receiv­ing the require­ment, engi­neers deployed to Afghanistan and Qatar to work through the tech­ni­cal chal­lenges of stand­ing up the U.S. com­po­nent of the Afghan Mis­sion Net­work, called the Com­bined Enter­prise Region­al Infor­ma­tion Exchange Sys­tem ISAF, or CX‑I.

Unlike the Secret Inter­net Pro­to­col Router net­work, or SIPERNET, that by law is restrict­ed to U.S. users, the CX‑I pro­vid­ed a forum for shar­ing mis­sion-crit­i­cal infor­ma­tion.

Anx­ious to get the new sys­tem going, McChrys­tal ordered the migra­tion of mis­sion-crit­i­cal data to the new CX‑I sys­tem in Jan­u­ary 2010, also des­ig­nat­ing that the first Army unit, the Army’s 2nd Stryk­er Cav­al­ry Reg­i­ment, be field­ed with the new net­work equip­ment that spring.

With­in four weeks, the team had engi­neered, pro­cured, field­ed, con­fig­ured and installed all the nec­es­sary equip­ment. Much of it was con­fig­ured using com­mer­cial, off-the-shelf com­po­nents already in the inven­to­ry, sav­ing $10 mil­lion at the first unit alone.

The team’s rapid response in fill­ing the gap in elec­tron­ic data-shar­ing earned them the pres­ti­gious 2010 David Packard Excel­lence in Acqui­si­tion Award.

Grat­i­fy­ing as the award may be, Wittstruck said, the big­ger reward is rec­og­niz­ing the new capa­bil­i­ties the net­work brings warfight­ers on the ground. As it sup­ports them, the Afghan Mis­sion Net­work will have an impact on future coali­tion mis­sions that lasts long past the mis­sion in Afghanistan, he said.

“We think it is going to be the point of depar­ture for future oper­a­tions,” Wittstruck said. “You will be able to scratch out ‘Afghan’ and just say ‘X’ Mis­sion Net­work. And wher­ev­er we go next in a coali­tion cam­paign, some­thing like that will prob­a­bly stand up.

“It’s a fun­da­men­tal change in the way we con­duct oper­a­tions, and we’re very proud of that,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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