Special ops forces need network boost, commander says

SOCOM chief lays out several challenges for network developers

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated Aug. 25, 2011, to reflect a correction in Adm. William McRaven's title.

Special operations forces are scattered around the globe working in missions that run around the clock, giving them some unique communications needs. Nearly all their operations involve joint teams, and they often have to communicate with conventional forces already in the area, making their network links an important element in their success.

Adm. William McRaven, commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, opened the second day of LandWarNet 2011 by detailing the operation’s communications needs and called on industry to help him meet new challenges.

The 59,000 users on SOCOM’s network, located in 76 countries, send 321,000 e-mails every day and hold 210 video teleconferences. Whenever video is involved, networks must provide imagery that is crystal clear.

“We need the clarity to see whether we’re looking at a guy carrying an RPG or an old man carrying a load of wood,” McRaven said. This will also help communicate more helpful information such as body language.

McRaven detailed five areas where he would like to see improvement. The first was the need for easy access to networks that include newer technologies like tablets and smart phones.

“We need a universal domain so I can pick up my iPhone or Android phone and communicate with all the folks I need to communicate with and not have to worry about security protocols. This is a problem that slows up the way we communicate,” McRaven said.

And he said improved reception would help forces receive and better understand information.

Another need is improved cloud computing.

“We need a soft enterprise cloud that allows me in a platform-independent way to access any data located anywhere within our enterprise,” McRaven said.

When communications go to this cloud, McRaven would like a full spectrum search engine that lets warfighters and commanders find all relevant data that’s available in top secret, secret and unclassified domains.

Also on his list: ironclad protection. He asked whether passwords and biometrics now being used were adequate for all communications.

During a question and answer session, he also called on industry to help special operations forces communicate with partners. “Can I have a scroll across the bottom of a video teleconference screen that translates the conversation?” McRaven asked.

Finally, he noted the need for improved communications for squads that are traveling to operations. He said teams can’t be out of communication during the critical time when they are headed toward the theater of operations.

About the Author

Terry Costlow is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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