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Partner-nation communications networks are essential

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Joint and coalition partners must train together on the use of their military communications networks whenever possible to build familiarity and to identify incompatibilities well in advance of when those networks will be needed during actual conflict, said Maj. Gen. Mitchell L. Kilgo.

Kilgo, who serves as director of J-6, U.S. Central Command, spoke during a July 20 Association of the United States Army Hot Topic forum on Army networks.

When conflicts arise, there will not be time to find solutions to the incompatibilities between partner-nation communications networks, Kilgo said. “There will already be enough turbulence coming into theater.”

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he 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, trains with United Kingdom soldiers at Fort Bliss, Texas, during a Network Integration Evaluation. (Photo by David Vergun)

Military communications networks used by both U.S. forces and partner nations allow commanders to issue orders to their subordinates and in turn allow those subordinates to relay the situation on the ground back up to their leadership.

Those same networks also allow partner nations to relay critical information to each other.

But the communications networks of partner-nation militaries are often developed independently of each other and may not be compatible.

Maj. Gen. Peter A. Gallagher, director of architecture, operations, networks, and space within the Army’s Chief Information Officer/G-6, said that network communications hardware and software isn’t always compatible with the U.S. or even with NATO. Some nations, he said, procure their own radios and other equipment on their own, not through foreign military sales. This creates a communications gap, he said.

Rear Adm. Danelle Barrett, who serves as both the director of the Navy’s Cyber Security Division as well as deputy to the Navy’s chief information officer, said network interconnectivity is a joint and coalition imperative because threats can come “fast and furious,” and delays in communications can disrupt the battle rhythm.

Barrett recommended that during training exercises, commanders should identify “no-fail missions” and then rehearse executing those missions.

Part of that joint and coalition training should include simulating an enemy attack on the network that disables it for some time, she said, and determine what effects that may have on those no-fail missions and what workarounds are feasible.

With connectivity down, she said, commanders can identify what impacts there will be not just on command and control, but on such things as medical and logistics support as well.