IQPC’S TACTICAL COMMUNICATIONS CONFERENCE
By Adam Baddeley, Deputy Editor, BATTLESPACE
28 Jun 06. IQPC’s Tactical Communications Conference 27-28 June offered a range of perspectives on how the UK is Command and Battlespace Management net today an in the future as well as adapting structures and processes to cope with finite bandwidth.
Lieutenant Colonel Simon Hutchinson SO1 J6 OPS Permanent Joint Head Quarters (PJHQ) outlined the Command Information Systems (CIS) structure being used by the UK in Afghanistan, principally in Helmand Province and how that integrates both with ISAF and US operations in the country.
The UK’s CIS package has been co-coordinated by PJHQ calling upon assets from all the front line commands, with key support from the DCSA.
At patrol level, units are using Bowman HF sets, with the radios easily achieving ranges of 60km with ground wave communications. Bowman HF is currently the principle form of secure voice communications although no ‘Blue Force Tracking’ nor data elements are being sent yet.
Colonel Hutchinson reported that delivery of Bowman to 16 Air Assault Brigade, which is the lead formation for Op Herrick, has been extremely successful. Quoting from a recent report he stated that during a recent firefight in thick vegetation, high walls and woods, patrol members were at all times able to communicate. This was despite the difficult terrain and at times coming under very heavy sustained fire and close contact. The equipment has been described by 3 Para as heavy, however it has thus far not proved to be an insurmountable issue. In general, 3 Para is said to be very impressed with Bowman.
Back up is provided by secure Tacsat, via the Harris PRC-117F radio and secure Iridium phones. However due to the US FMS process, secure Iridium add-on modules can take up to 12 months. The UK is now looking at DAMA-isation to deliver a fivefold increase in UHF satcom channels.
The Joint Operational Command System (JOCS) is the key CIS suite for UK eye-only data at strategic levels. The coalition system of choice is the US CENTRIX GCTF. This is provided and maintained by the US for all coalition members. As of yet there is no unified NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) system and CENTRIX remains the key. Because of its classification and wide distribution however, it has however proven difficult to introduce a Common Operating Picture.
JOCS is Unix and NT based. PJHQ and other users are said to be “eagerly awaiting” DII(F) Deployed to deliver greater consistency between day-to-day desktop applications and deployed systems.
While the UK uses Centrix and JOCS on a day-to-day basis, there are additional UK CIS including RAFFCIS, Lychgate and Spectre. The latter is a cabin-based area network overlaid throughout southern Afghanistan for carrying all UK contingent voice and data systems.
Strategic CIS interoperability in Afghanistan is “not there yet” according to Colonel Hutchinson. He believes a fully joined up system will come when NATO FOC is delivered in roughly mid 2007.
To bridge the communications gap NATO have acquired further AN/PRC-117Fs to provide voice only UHF connectivity between Coalition forces. Already in wide service in the south of country with the US, UK and Canadian forces, the 117F is being extended to every nationality of the Coalition for a secure voice net in all commands and regions. However satellite bandwidth availability remains an issue.
UHF tacsat are being issued at company group and patrol level, a much wider basis than was first anticipated. There are also localised radio systems in VHF and UHF where the UK has looked at purchasing equipment to provide additional gateways to smaller contingents.
The UK’s spectrum management responsibilities are largely limited to Helmand where the UK has deployed its own spectrum management cell. Afghanistan as a whole is undertaken by ISAF in Kabul. The UK is using standa