Army faces communications challenges in Afghanistan

'Perfect Storm' of complex network issues requires attention

The multitude of hurdles in transition, network operations and infrastructure issues in the Afghanistan theater are making for serious struggles for the Army – and also yielding critical lessons in collaboration and in flexibility of solutions.

“We’re transitioning forces, we have network challenges ... we really are in a time that could be the perfect storm,” said Brig. Gen. Lawrence Brock, commander of the Army 359th Signal Brigade. “If we don’t manage it and do it right, and get help from program managers, industry and our local partners, it could get ugly real quick.”

Speaking today at Army IT Day in Vienna, Va., Brock cited a litany of challenges he sees: multiple complex combat operations, simultaneous network migrations and upgrades, tough infrastructure issues on forward operating bases, contracting hurdles, complicated transportation issues and the emerging cyber emphasis.

In Afghanistan, a force “uplift,” or build-up, is requiring a build-out of infrastructure that incorporates C5ISR – command, control, communications, computers, collaboration (others refer to the fifth C as combat), intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, Brock said.

The heavy-duty requirements can be complicated by incompatibility, whether technological or ideological.

“Some platoon commanders say, ‘We don’t want iPhones in our soldiers’ hands, we want them out front,’” he said.

Brock stressed the importance of getting the network as far as the dismounted soldier.

“We need to make sure we look at the tactical edge and build out networks back from that,” he said. “We have to engineer from the tactical edge to the strategic core.”

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering military networks for Defense Systems.

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