New gateway links military, civilian, international responders

Army Multimedia Gateway JUICE

The Multimedia Gateway connects the Army to FEMA, the National Guard and other responders.

While the Defense Department works toward joint interoperability for military operations, there’s also the question of what to do when operations, such as disaster response, extend beyond the military. The Homeland Security Department or the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for instance, have their own networks and communications systems, the fact of which could get in the way of a coordinated response with the Army or National Guard.

The Army, which for years has run joint exercises with the other military services and those of other countries, now has a new tool to help bring civilian response agencies into the fold, which it tested as part of its recent Joint Users Interoperability Communications Exercise, or JUICE. This year’s exercise, the 22nd JUICE, introduced a bridging capability called Multimedia Gateway, or MMG, that enables communications between existing, albeit disparate, networks, whether they belong to the military, FEMA, the Guard or the state police.

MMG grew out of a 2012 executive order on emergency preparedness that called for an interoperable backup communications plan. As a result, the military and civilian agencies have developed "new, out-of-band communications capability for continuity of government and state communications in the event we lose current communications infrastructure," John Kahler, chief of the Army’s Joint On-demand Interoperability Network, or JOIN, said in a news release. "When you start supporting executive orders, that's pretty significant.

This year’s JUICE exercise, hosted at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., but with most participants operating remotely, included all the military branches, 11 partner nations and FEMA, which is a part of DHS. It also included a full range of mobile devices, including phones, tablets, radios and laptops, and MMG can extend to hospitals and fire stations.

The security of communications is always an issue, but JUICE had little trouble testing MMG in a hostile environment, with state and non-state actors trying to hack into it. As the Army has discovered in past JUICE exercises, it doesn’t need to assemble a red team to simulate attacks on the network, since any network it sets up will be under real attack anyway. The Army said the test validated the MMG system, with FEMA’s communications working smoothly with those of the National Guard and Marines.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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