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Communicating for SASO employs cutting edge solutions.


Communications for Stability and Support Operations requires a new approach that seamlessly integrates the tactical and strategic worlds while retaining the ability to rapidly support tactical, primarily offensive, operations. During Operation Iraqi Freedom II, the 13th Signal Battalion employed several innovative and cutting edge solutions to meet the extensive and challenging C2 requirements associated with supporting Task Force Baghdad, led by the 1st Cavalry Division, in an unpredictable counter-insurgency fight. The battalion's initiatives led the implementation of the Army's first true 'data only' network based on Voice over Internet Protocol telephony, enabled the battalion to support the vast user requirements of TF Baghdad without increasing the requirement for additional signal elements, and extended strategic services across a tactical network like never before. In short, our approach enabled TF Baghdad's access to the Global Information Grid to become a reality today.

TF Baghdad:

Task Force Baghdad's mission was to provide a secure and stable environment in the Baghdad area of operations--a battle space totaling over 2,600 square kilometers of urban and rural terrain. In order to meet the extensive troop requirements associated with securing a city of more than seven million people, the size of the division was dramatically increased. By January 2005, TF Baghdad consisted of 11 Army and Marine brigade-sized elements comprised of more than 60 battalions--a huge Division Task Force consisting of over 58,000 Soldiers and Marines that far exceeded the Division's normal strength of 17,000. Fortunately, the TF Baghdad footprint had been reduced to six major and five minor base camps following the departure of the 1st Armored Division in March 2004. This force consolidation provided a unique opportunity to build a reliable and redundant network.

To support TF Baghdad, the 13th Signal Battalion (TF Mercury), was augmented with several other units. At its peak, TF Mercury consisted of nine assigned, attached, or TACON companies with approximately 1,200 Soldiers supporting over 110 command posts--a level of support equivalent to that of 4.5 division signal battalions. Attached or TACON units consisted of A/28 Signal Battalion, 28th Infantry Division (Pennsylvania National Guard), B/10 Signal Battalion, 10th Mountain Division (Fort Drum, N.Y.), and B/134 Signal Battalion, 34th Infantry Division (Minnesota National Guard). Additionally, elements from three other Corps Signal battalions supported TF Baghdad at various times of the deployment.

Unique SASO communications requirements:

The 13th Signal Battalion entered Baghdad during a unique period of the conflict. The war had transitioned from strictly combat operations to a counter-insurgency fight with an emerging emphasis on rebuilding the nation's essential services and establishing legitimate Iraqi Security Forces. Instead of being dispersed across the city, TF Baghdad consolidated its footprint into six major Forward Operating Bases. While tactical operations 'outside the wire' remained the norm, the establishment of these FOBs presented several unique C2 challenges and just as many unique opportunities.

Perhaps the most unique challenge of operating from set FOBs was leader expectations--the maneuver commander's simply expected "garrison" type communications support and quality of service. Commanders, from brigade to company level, expected reliable SIPRNET, NIPRNET, DSN, and secure voice capabilities. In short, leaders expected the same quality of service--and perhaps even better--than they had at home station. Brigade and battalion commanders expected to contact their company commanders with a telephone or via email--not on a radio. They expected to be able to use Exchange email just as they did in a CONUS environment. And they expected to see real time situational awareness traffic from multiple platforms in a common operating picture. In addition to an extremely high level of expectation, the division required SIPRNET not only down to the battalion level, but to the company level as well. This significant change of signal doctrine far exceeded the capabilities of TF Mercury--even with the additional signal companies we received.

Another major challenge of SASO is the significant number of non-traditional users that emerge and that require support. These new users, all with legitimate requirements, usually came with little or no organic signal support. Examples of these non-traditional users include the Base Defense Operation Centers, Mayor Cells, legal offices, fire stations, guard points, medical and dining facilities. Additionally, the division received units from other services such as a Navy SEAL detachment and an Air Force Engineer Detachment to further increase the number of units that required support.

The last major challenge presented by a SASO environment was the large bandwidth requirements of the Division digitized command and control tools. These tools, primarily the new Command Post of the Future, would require unprecedented bandwidth to support. Initial estimates for CPOF alone stated that the system required, on average, four Mb/s to operate--well above the capabilities of conventional MSE.

Our approach:

Circuit switching technology has been the fabric of tactical telephony since the 1970s. However, our vision was to transition to a data-only network that eliminated reliance on the division's archaic tactical telephones and provided almost unlimited bandwidth to our users--whether located on a FOB or while conducting tactical operations. In order to accomplish this task, TF Mercury leveraged the capabilities of its High Capacity Line-of-Site and Asynchronous Transfer Mode equipment, coupled with commercial equipment such as Codem CTM100s, to provide at least an eight MB/s pipe to our subscribers. Voice over Internet Protocol telephony was used to replace the antiquated and inconsistent Digital Non-secure Voice Terminal tactical telephones.

Reach back communications was essential to providing the task force the communications required to conduct business out of theater. We set out to provide big pipes and multiple services and did so by building a 'data package' at the DMAIN and DREAR. We developed the network for our mission requirements by installing central reach back points in order to disseminate services. Satellite links to Bahrain and Al Salayah provided TF Baghdad with 4MB/s total bandwidth of NIPRNET access, SIPRNET, Serial VTC, and DSN.

To free MSE assets and provide reliable, high bandwidth LANs, we installed over 20 miles of fiber optic cabling and commercial data networking equipment at Camps Liberty, Taji, and Falcon.

Building a Data Only Network--taking bandwidth out of the equation

The 13th Signal Battalion is one of four active duty ATM Mobile Subscriber Equipment equipped signal battalions in the Army. Due to its speed, ATM switching comprises the backbone of the global information grid; because switching processes are inherently faster than routed processes, data throughout the task force flowed at incredible speeds, on average, 10 times the speed of THSDN MSE assets, with bandwidth between two and eight megabits per second (MB/s). Data flowed to brigade headquarters in around six milliseconds and to battalions in around 13. ATM was instrumental in the unit's ability to support the high bandwidth and low data latency requirements sought by TF Baghdad.

The standard employment of division Signal battalion assets provides services to the Division Main and Rear, Assault Command Post, three brigade combat teams, aviation brigade, division artillery, four support battalions, three aviation battalions, and the division cavalry squadron. Instead of employing Node Centers Switches as tandem switches in remote locations as is standard practice, the task force placed switches in direct support of BCT headquarters in order to provide large capacity (8 MB/s) data trunks (SIPRNET, NIPRNET, & VoIP) and tactical telephones in the form of DNVTs to brigade tactical operations centers. A 'dual-home' small extension node switch was co-located with each brigade NCS, providing an 8 MB/s redundant link. The 'dual home' was accomplished by running CAT5 cabling between both tactical switches' routers--a move that served the task force well throughout the battle space, ensuring uninterrupted service to critical applications (Fig. 1).



This technology was a huge success with maneuver commanders because of its superior call clarity and advanced features, such as directory services, conferencing, and caller ID. Therefore, we pushed SIPRNET and NIPRNET VoIP down to the battalion level, thereby implementing the largest network in the Department of the Army and the first ever large scale implementation in a tactical environment. At its peak, the division processed over 35,000 SIPR VoIP phone calls a day.

Cisco call managers are the heart of the VoIP network, each capable of providing 2,500 VoIP telephones. Because phones must work 24/7 in a combat environment, we endeavored to provide a redundant architecture to provide uninterrupted voice communications. This was accomplished (Fig. 2) by installing a Call Manger Publisher and Subscriber at four of our FOBs. The Publisher is the device that processes calls and supports advanced features, provides directory services, and provides logical connectivity to other Call Manager Publishers. The Call Manager Subscribers exist to provide a layer of redundancy. If a publisher ever failed, due to loss of power, battle damage, etc., the subscriber would take over in approximately 40 seconds with all the features of a publisher.


Each brigade level headquarters received 25 (digital) Cisco 7940 VoIP phones and another 24 analogue plain old telephone system phones for that building and the surrounding area. The POTS phones functioned as VoIP with the assistance of VoIP Gateway devices--Cisco VG-248s providing 48 POTS phones, or Cisco VG-224s providing 24 POTS phones. This was the most cost efficient way to supply phones for large organizations. Battalions were provided 12 Cisco 7940 phones. Additionally, for low density requirements, analogue telephone adaptors (ATA-188) were used to transform standard POTS phones to VoIP. ATAs provide two phones per device as well as providing SIPR/ NIPR access to one computer.

As SIPR cannot be run everywhere and to facilitate coordination with home station elements, NIPR VoIP was also pushed to each battalion and users who, for security reasons could not receive a SIPR connection. Each brigade received four NIPR DSN phones and each battalion received two. These phones were invaluable for coordinating redeployment, contact with family readiness groups, and for casualty notification.

NIPR (DSN) VoIP proved to be a combat multiplier. NIPR DSN connectivity was accomplished by connecting two T1s off REDCOM IGX analogue voice switches at the DMAIN and DREAR to Cisco ITS routers, which tied into NIPR call managers.

TF Mercury installed three VANTAGE switches throughout the area of operations, providing a robust VoIP to DNVT gateway.

Fiber network

There is a plan to commercialize military installations in Iraq; however, after almost two years, the formal commercialization program is still in its infancy. To fill the gap between formal commercialization and current realities and subscriber demands, the battalion installed a permanent fiber optic network at

Camps Liberty, Taji, and Falcon. Camp Liberty (formally Camp Victory North) was home to the DMAIN, three brigade combat teams, five separate battalions, and a host of garrison activities. Working with the defense contractor General Dynamics, the task force procured data networking equipment and fiber optic cabling, and obtained engineer support to dig trenches for the conduit that would house the fiber and to install manholes locally fabricated. The Task Force Mercury Cable Team, augmented with Soldiers from throughout the task force, laid a permanent fiber infrastructure and terminated it into fiber patch panels, while automation Soldiers installed the networking equipment.

The DREAR at Taji called for a different implementation due to the layout of the FOB. Occurring nearly simultaneously to the Camp Liberty effort, contractors installed the fiber optic cabling overhead, attaching it to poles the task force procured. The inside plant was identical to that at Camp Liberty, with the same Cisco networking gear comprising the heart of the SIPRNET and NIPRNET LAN. To manage the Taji network, Task Force Mercury set up a technical control facility to oversee the reach back (commercial) satellite, LANs, and SIPRNET and NIPRNET VoIP call managers.

The commercialization projects resulted in 47 MSE assets coming out of system--nearly two division signal battalions worth of equipment. However, the continuous demand for MSE assets called for their use elsewhere in the battle space. The "savings" we anticipated from the fiber optic networks never materialized. As commercialization allowed assets to come out of system, they quickly received new missions to support out of sector combat missions and non-traditional users in TF Baghdad.

Company SIPR empowering the CAVNET

Some of the MSE assets freed up from the fiber networks allowed the task force to provide the first-ever SIPRNET capability at the company level. With this capability, the division improved its knowledge management processes by providing data communications to each company so that users could have access and participate in the CAVNET, a forum designed to quickly transfer tactics, techniques, and procedures from one sector to another. Instead of gathering TTPs for the next war, company commanders could share lessons learned in preparation for the next patrol.

Vignettes illustrating key points:

On several occasions Task Force Mercury supported 1CD elements operating out of sector and in non-traditional locations in and around Baghdad. To support major combat operations in Fallujah, the battalion relocated an A/28 SIG THSDN Node Center from Camp Liberty to Abu Gharayb prison and the ACPs Contingency package and 8MB/s dual home SEN supporting one of the division's BCTs to a FOB between Baghdad and Fallujah.

An additional SEN deployed to the heart of Fallujah during the initial assault on the city, providing voice and critical data to this unit 30 minutes after occupying their site. Other SENs supported Marine elements charged with interdicting anti-Iraqi forces, jumping locations multiple times each day. In each instance, brigade and battalion headquarters maintained their SIPR and NIPR VoIP capability and the advanced services the technology provides.

The historic Iraqi election held at the end of January 2005 called for non-traditional implementation of MSE assets. The task force located a Contingency Switch and ATM and THSDN SENs at the Baghdad Police headquarters and the Eastern and Western District Police headquarters, all in very urban terrain amidst the local populace. CPOF and associated VoIP over the CPOF terminals served as the C2 means to facilitate TF Baghdad's election support. Once again, VoIP proved priceless, as SIPR VoIP provided intra-division coordination, while NIPR VoIP provided connectivity to government agencies charged with collecting and moving ballots.

Conclusion/Way ahead:

One final consideration for future VoIP implementation is multilevel precedence and preemption. We were able to circumvent the requirement for MLPP 'in-house' by relying on caller ID and call forwarding to ensure critical calls were received. In the future, the tactical and strategic worlds must provide a seamless MLPP solution to ensure critical calls from outside local networks are recognized and processed by SIPR and NIPR VoIP instruments.

Operation Iraqi Freedom II was a stability and support operation requiring garrison quality tactical communication systems that allowed Task Force Baghdad to command and control forces engaged in combat, direct efforts to improve the local sewer, water, electricity, and trash situation, train Iraqi security forces, and facilitate the first free election in the nation's history. The non-standard use of MSE to support critical subscribers, the installation of fiber optic networks at the DMAIN and DREAR, and the widespread implementation of SIPR and NIPR VoIP service made all the above possible and provided the tactical commander unprecedented tools to command and control his forces.

Commercial-off-the-shelf technologies will continue to find their way to the battlefield and our resourceful Signal Soldiers will continue to push the envelope to give the best possible support to the warfighter. Our Soldiers demand and deserve nothing less.


1CD--1st Cavalry Division

ACP--Assault Command Post

ATM--Asynchronous Transfer Mode

BCT--Brigade Combat Team

COP--Common Operating Picture

CPOF--Command Post of the Future

DMAIN--Division Main

DNVT--Digital Non-secure Voice Terminal

DREAR--Division Rear

DSN--Defense Switched Network

FOB--Forward Operating Base

GIG--Global Information Grid

HCLOS--High Capacity Line of Site

ISF--Iraqi Security Forces

MLPP--Multi-level Precedence and Preemption

MSE--mobile subscriber equipment

NCS--Node Center Switch

POTS--Plain Old Telephone System

SASO--Stability and Support Operations

SEN--Small Extension Node Switch

TACON--Tactical Control

THSDN--Tactical High Speed Data Network

TOC--Tactical Operations Center

TTPs--tactics, techniques, and procedures

VoIP--Voice over Internet Protocol

MAJ Jerry D. Marlatt Jr. is currently serving as the 13th Signal Battalion Operations Officer, having recently redeployed from a 13 month stint in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom II. He is a graduate of the US Army Command and General Staff College, the Marine Corps Command and Control Systems course, and the Signal Officer Basic course and has served in numerous tactical communications billets.
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Title Annotation:stability and support operations
Author:Marlatt, Jerry D., Jr.
Publication:Army Communicator
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2005
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