Lessons from GIG expansion in OEF/OIF

Brad Grane

The newly reactivated 160th Signal Brigade is extending the Global Information Grid to the warfigher by installing commercial communications facilities and capabilities throughout the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. Having worked in both the Afghanistan and Iraqi theaters, I was fortunate to be on the cutting edge of developments that will be impacting Soldiers, Sailors, Airman and Marines for years to come.

The transition from a battalion of the 11th Signal Brigade with a strategic mission to two battalions and a full brigade headquarters happened at quite an opportune time for the 54th Signal Battalion. For the past 13 years, the 54th has provided fixed-station communications throughout the CENTCOM AOR. With the growing requirements of the Global War on Terror, the responsibilities of 54th were shared with the newly reactivated 25th Signal Battalion, located in Qatar, and a new brigade headquarters, located in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.

The 25th gained responsibility for the reduced U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia, and the increased presence in Qatar and the central Asia republics while 54th retains operations in Kuwait and is expanding into Iraq. The standup of the 160th Signal Brigade and 25th Signal Battalion was accelerated due to the wartime nature of the theater. Herculean efforts on the part of the Army Staff and Network Command/ 9th Army Signal Command put boots on the ground more than a year earlier than originally planned.

To meet the rapidly growing number of technical-control facilities the 160th developed the Direct Signal Support Team concept. The DSST is usually headed by a first lieutenant or captain with a sergeant first class or staff sergeant as non-commission-officer-in-charge. When possible, additional NCOs and soldiers of various military occupational specialties are included to round out the team.

In the future, the team will have a contractor logistics technician and a Department of the Army civilian contracting officer’s technical representative.

One of the hurdles in executing the DSST concept is filling the DA civilian and contractor positions with qualified and motivated individuals. The OIC supervises contract execution by the civilian contractors and also provides liaison between the military and contractors. He/she lives the phrase “Responsible for all the unit does or fails to do.” DSSTs were formed from organic assets as well as augmented by Soldiers from other units.

The main purpose of the TCF and DSST is to relieve tactical signal units so that they may re-deploy and reconstitute for other missions. They bring the additional capabilities of commercial communications to the lowest level possible. A DSST is essentially a directorate of information management (-) and in some cases will grow to a full sized company DOIM with the upcoming activation of new signal companies.

In both theaters a higher level organization handles the Engineering and Installation, Network Command in Operation Enduring Freedom and the Kuwait Iraq C4 Commercialization program in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Operation and Maintenance is handled by various contractors, the major portion being done under the existing ITT-TACSWA contract. The higher level E&I teams install the equipment and 160th/ITT team assumes O&M responsibility.

Promina series multiplexers form the nodes of the network. They are networked via Deployable, Ku-band, Earth Terminals, USC-60 Tri-band satellite terminals and both commercial and tactical microwave systems. Standard deployable data packages are the basic structure but are being replaced by rack mounted high-end commercial equipment in fully climate-controlled facilities with raised floors and full sized cable vaults supported by above- and below-ground cable runs.

Voice services are primarily provided by REDCOM IGX voice switches with gateways into the SL-100/DSN network. Long term plans involve moving or purchasing SL-100 or SL-1 switches for some of the larger, enduring sites in Iraq and possibly Afghanistan.

Voice Over Internet Protocol is a relatively new technology to the military that is paying big dividends. Seventy-five percent of users do not require the precedence offered by the DSN network and an IP phone with a gateway into the DSN network provides all the services of POTS except the preemption. A DISA standard for VOIP will allow this technology to reach its full potential.

Customer support is the number one priority. Mission essential communications must be available, reliable, high quality and low latency. This holds true throughout the Regiment. What follows are some brief lessons learned that applied to both the OEF and OIF theaters during my 12-month tour of duty.

The single greatest challenge to this process is the bureaucracy involved with commercializing communications infrastructure. I witnessed the same symptoms in the OEF and OIF theaters. It is absolutely essential that the process be expedited in order to reap any benefits for OIF II and see moderate progress through OIF III. In most cases, the communications requirements belong to a combatant commander who is used to working with tactical signal units who can “make it happen” within hours or days. FOB and camp commanders do not want to hear anything about the requirements to solution process and it is very frustrating to tell them “There is nothing we can do to help you because our contractors only do O&M not E&I.” These combatant commanders are willing to distribute funding from their operational accounts to the site OIC in an attempt to purchase an interim fix in a reasonable amount of time.

Over time, the interim fixes become permanent because the site communications teams have worked with engineers or other units to lay cable/fiber and purchased enough piecemeal telecom infrastructure via PR&C’s/CARB process despite the “No E&I” aspect of our mission. By the time the commercialization engineers and program managers arrive, the local signal team has “made it happen” to an 80 percent solution that offers very little value added to upgrade the infrastructure any further via the higher level E&I organizations.

Changing requirements and “good ideas” can drag a project to a near stand still because the E&I teams work with 60-120 day lead times on equipment and contracts. By constantly changing requirements the supply flow is disrupted leading to missed deadlines, wasted money and more than a few developmental discussions about an officer’s career. It is essential that a brave S/C/J-6 staff officer tactfully brief the commander on the repercussions of changing requirements and new ideas. A deadline for changes must be set and adhered to and base commanders must be made to understand challenges. Even the non-doctrinal “good-idea-cut-offline” is useful to make them understand that constant change means no progress. Further operational capabilities can be added to the base system once it is complete. The same concept applies to real estate management when determining locations for communications facilities. The procurement community calls this “spiral development” and we need to look at the same concept for managing telecommunications commercialization.

Large bandwidth satellite infrastructure is the only thing that seems to be out of reach of the DSST. These items were always provided by the E&I organizations. A suggestion would be to allow 54th and 25th DSST’s along with the local CJ6 to have access to KICC/ NETCOM funding in order to allow parallel execution and improvement at various camps. In addition, more KICC/NETCOM personnel are needed in order to execute contracts for camps and be able to obligate funds away from the bureaucracy and red tape.

Help Desk–Enforcing the Information Management Officer concept will greatly reduce the workload of the Help Desk. The users’ first line of support should be the unit IMO. With this system, the help desk and NET/SYS Admins have a single point of contact for each organizational unit to deal with for all IT needs. Periodic IMO meetings allow enforcement of policy as well as IA protection/ prevention.

Contractors–It is essential to get the contractors integrated into all aspects of operations as soon as possible. These contractors are paid for their experience and their subject expertise. We pay them a great deal of money for their certifications and experience that they gain in the civilian world because they don’t have to worry about sweeping the motor pool or performing CTT.

They have vast amounts of knowledge that our Soldiers do not have the opportunity to learn. By integrating them early, they can learn the nuances of the local operating environment and then transition to complete control of the network in order to free Soldiers for other missions or redeployment. In some cases the contractors have been constricted to one third of their full potential in operating the voice/ data networks. Not only does the Army pay them to perform below the standard, but they are forced to stand idly by while soldiers attempt tasks that may be beyond their skill/ experience level. In some cases the contractors are called in at the end, after days of outages and the military unit finally requesting additional support.

It is important that contractors understand their relationship with the military. Mentioning that they work for 54th Signal Battalion is a much more effective way of dealing with military and other contractors and frees them of the stigma that may be attached to the particular company that they work for. Commercial rivalries must be set aside in the contemporary operational environment. Not wanting to work with company X or worried that company Y will steal their business practices does nothing to increase mission accomplishment.

Contractors must also understand that they represent the U.S. almost as much as Soldiers downtown do when they are dealing with local nationals. They must contribute as much as possible to the winning of the hearts and minds.

Supply Challenges–Being forward deployed without their higher headquarters, the DSSTs are forced to rely on improvised supply methods. In the earliest stages this is accomplished through building mutually beneficial relationships with adjacent units, especially engineering and supply units. A lieutenant or staff sergeant can easily find themselves in charge of a $25,000 cash monthly field-ordering officer account. This is a direct leadership challenge that is not taught in any manual or course that I have been to and directly reflects on an individual’s abilities to accomplish the mission through intangible characteristics such as “people skills.” Success is about relationships and not chains of command.

The greatest logistics challenge we faced is pallet-sized cargo transportation. The transportation system at the unit level is broken. Numerous pallets of C4 equipment were lost or misdirected in both the Iraq and Afghan theaters. Pallets frequently get mislabeled and end up at the wrong destination only to sit in the yard for weeks. The Air Force is not proactive in linking lost cargo to its owners; this responsibility falls solely on the owner of the equipment.

The RF tracking tags are only affixed with zip ties and frequently fall off after getting bumped by another pallet, or worse, their batteries run out. Tasking a Soldier to escort the pallet proved unsuccessful because Soldiers would sit at the APOD for days only to be told that they are not allowed to escort their pallet. Once out of their control, it is impossible to tell what would happen to the pallet. The most successful method is to pack the supplies into one to two foot-locker-sized cases per person and have one or two individuals fly to a location with the equipment transported as their personal baggage. The courier drops off the equipment and flies home to make another trip. Commercial shipping companies provide an effective, yet expensive option once the theater matures.

Shortening the engineering, acquisition, and installation of communications infrastructure is essential to providing improved communications to the war fighters and staffs in the OIF/OEF theaters. Proving our worth as a Regiment prepared for change and able to adapt is essential to remaining relevant and keeping up with technology in order to better serve our customers.


AOR–Area of Responsibility

APOD–Aerial Port of Debarkation

C4–Command, Control, Communications and Computers

CARB–Combined Acquisition Review Board

CENTCOM–U.S. Central Command

COTR–contracting officer’s technical representative

DA–Department of the Army

DISA–Defense Information Systems Agency

DKET–Deployable Ku-Band Earth Terminal

DOIM–Directorate of Information Management

DSN–Defense Switched Network

DSST–Direct Signal Support Team

E&I–Engineering and Installation

FOB–Forward Operating Base

FOO–field ordering officer

GICIL–good idea cutoff line

GIG–Global Information Grid

GWOT–Global War on Terror

IA–Information Assurance

IGX–ISDN Gateway Exchange

IMO–Information Management Officer

KICC–Kuwait Iraq C4 (Command, Control, Communications and Computers) Commercialization

NETCOM–Network Enterprise Technology Command

O&M–Operate and Maintain

OEF–Operation Enduring Freedom

OIF–Operation Iraqi Freedom

POTS–Plain Old Telephone Service

PR&C–Purchase Request and Commitment

RF–Radio Frequency

TACSWA–Total Army Communications, South-west Asia

TCF–Technical Control Facility

VOIP–Voice over Internet Protocol

CPT Grane was most recently the A/S-3(FWD) of the 54th Signal Battalion in Victory Base, Iraq, and previously the DSST/DOIM OIC at the American Embassy and CFC Headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan. He served in various other positions including Node Center Platoon Leader, Mechanized Infantry Platoon Leader, and Support Platoon PL in the 1st Cavalry Division. CPT Grane is a 1998 graduate of the University of Illinois with a degree in geography. Special thanks to LTC John F. Schrader, 54th Signal Battalion commander, for help with this article.

COPYRIGHT 2004 U.S. Army Signal Center

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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