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Central Iraq Microwave System supports MNF-I communications missions.

It's difficult enough managing telecommunications infrastructure projects under normal circumstances, trying to juggle cost, schedule and performance to provide the best possible system. When you're managing a managing telecommunications infrastructure projects in Iraq, though, you have to factor in the problems inherent in working in a war zone.

But with diligence and perseverance, you can overcome these obstacles and deliver a high-quality system, as MAJ Kevin Messer proved during his recently-ended year-long deployment to Iraq, where he led a team from the Project Manager, Defense Communications and Army Transmission Systems, part of the Army's Program Executive Office Enterprise Information Systems, in implementing the Central Iraq Microwave System, which provides near-real-time point-to-point, point-to-multipoint, and multipoint-to-multipoint data transmission services with multiple layers of redundancy for the Multi-National Force-Iraq.

CIMS, with SONET (synchronous optical network) communications links in the International Zone, Camp Victory, Camp Slayer, Taji and Camp Anaconda, provides OC-3 (155 Mbps) bandwidth to support warfighters' critical C4I (command, control, communications, computers and intelligence) missions.

Messer said that the links in the International Zone, Camp Victory and Camp Slayer became operational in December 2005, with the Taji and Camp Anaconda links becoming operational in April 2006.

CIMS allows MNF-I personnel to tap into NIPRNET (Nonsecure Internet Protocol Router Network), SIPRNET (Secret Internet Protocol Router Network), CENTRIXS (the Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System), voice, VTC (video teleconferencing) and JWICS (the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System).

"Because CIMS is a low-latency, high-speed, high-bandwidth system," said Messer, "it allows MNF-I personnel to transmit near-real-time data to support strategic or operational missions--whatever the user needs it for. CIMS will allow us to relieve one DKET (deployable KU-band earth terminal) and to redeploy that DKET elsewhere."

"CIMS is a major asset to forces in Iraq for providing lower-cost and higher-speed interconnectivity versus traditional satellite deployments," added Luke Morgan, an engineer from the U. S. Army Information Systems Engineering Command, who worked on the CIMS project.

Overcoming engineering challenges plus the Rule of 3 and 6

Despite considerable pressure from the users to deliver CIMS, Messer steadfastly insisted on straightening out the kinks in the system before turning it over. He said a major engineering challenge was that CIMS--which includes microwave radios, ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) switches and high-speed encryption devices--couldn't be tested before being fielded. Instead, they had to install the system and then fine-tune it from end-to-end. After exhaustive testing, with participation from ISEC engineers, the gaining O&M (operations and maintenance) command and coordinated support from vendors and contractors, CIMS' performance far exceeded commercial standards.

"We had to learn on the ground," said Messer. "We could not assume conditions would be as they should be, or as we might expect they should be. We could not assume tech control facilities had stable power or grounding--sometimes they did, sometimes they didn't. We could not assume wiring was properly installed or insulated. We, as the PM (project manager), or the O&M folks, had to do the upgrades to fix the problems as we encountered them. Whatever it took, that's what we did."

"Everything is more difficult in Iraq," echoed SFC Arthur Lee of PM DCATS, who assisted on the project. "While managing your project in Iraq, the 'Rule of 3 and 6' governs operations--meaning, it takes three times longer to get anything done in Iraq on a 'normal' day, and six times longer when things get hot with increased insurgent activity."

Some 'normal day' challenges? The climate, for one. Messer said there were temperatures of 120 degrees-plus in the summer, and there were torrential deluges during the rainy season in the winter, when rainwater would fill the pits excavated for the concrete pads to support microwave towers--which the CIMS team then had to have pumped out.

"We also had three sandstorms when I was there," added Messer. "You would see a mountain of sand stretching across the horizon, hundreds of feet high, and watch as it approached you. The only thing you could do then was to wait it out until it passed over you."

Another challenge was getting Iraqi workers and vehicles on and off bases.

"You had to get the local nationals (Iraqi workers) badged," said Messer, "then it could take a couple of hours as they waited on line to get through the gate. Then you had to get them back off the base at the end of the day. This limited the number of hours they could work in a day."

Lee told of the adventure of getting a water truck onto a base--the water was needed to make the concrete pad for a microwave tower. After the truck waited in the queue for some hours and finally reached the gate, the checkpoint guards made the driver empty the water tank for a security inspection, to ensure there were no explosives, weapons or insurgents hidden in the tank.

"Luckily, we were able to refill the water tank from a stream near the work site," said Lee.

And then there was the problem of the height of some of the microwave towers, up to 500 feet at some locations--which was a problem when the Iraqi cranes went only 100 feet high, and sometimes bent when lifting sections of towers. The solution there, Messer said, was to get a gen pole and winch from the U.S. to do the heavy lifting. And what about when things got hot with increased insurgent activity?

"We lost one local national to a terrorist attack," said Messer.

Morgan said that there were several incidents of small arms fire at the microwave tower sites during construction.

"One morning," Morgan added, "an unexploded rocket was found 60 feet from the base of one of the towers sites."

If it really got hot, Lee said the crew could get locked-down 'inside the wire,' behind the concrete walls and barbed wire of the base's security perimeter, as they waited for things to cool off.

"That could bring the project to a halt," said Lee, "until it became safe enough for the Iraqi workers to travel and get back to the base, or for us to get off the base to go to other bases."

Yet they made it work, they implemented the CIMS project despite these challenges. Messer gives high marks to the CIMS team, singling out ISEC engineers Morgan and Brock Tucker for kudos. "I had those guys working 18 hour days for almost three months straight," said Messer. "When we ran into problems, they'd stop, troubleshoot and fix the problems."

Messer also praised the performance of his contractor CIMS project coordinator on the ground in Iraq, Robert Delaski of CACI International, Inc.

"Robert Delaski was amazing," said Messer, "he was my 'go-to' parts guy. If we needed material--fiber, antennas, whatever we needed to be successful--you would see Delaski driving a forklift across Victory base with it."

The bottom line? Despite the obstacles, they delivered CIMS just ahead of the mid-April date that they promised. The operation of the system exceeded expectations, and the customer was pleased with the result. This was evident on April 17, when BG Gary Connor, MNF-I's Deputy Chief of Staff, Communications and Information Systems (C6), stopped a high-level video teleconference meeting of officers representing MNF-I, the Multi-National Force-Iraq, the Coalition Forces Land Component Command, the 335th Theater Signal Command and the 160th Signal Brigade to publicly recognize Messer for his work on CIMS and other infrastructure projects in Iraq. Connor presented Messer with an MNF-I commander's coin and an MNF-I patch for his uniform.

"I felt appreciated--no, make that vindicated," said Messer. "I would not turn over the system to the customer unless it was right. Despite the challenges, we met the date and delivered what we promised."

Mr. Larsen is a public affairs officer with Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems, Program Manager, Defense Communications and Army Transmission Systems at Fort Monmouth, N.J.
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Author:Larsen, Stephen
Publication:Army Communicator
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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