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APRIL 5, 1999


DOD should define requirements for GBS

By Ronald D. Elliott

The Defense Department has begun to build the Global Broadcast Service, which will enable DOD to send information such as imagery, intelligence information, missile warnings, weather forecasts and other information to alleviate the load on other military communications systems.

GBS will be able to push data out to commanders in the field based on a commander's "information profile" needs, or users in the field could tap into the system to pull information from databases.

But GBS is a program that has chased technology rather than having been built to support information dissemination requirements. DOD has not yet clearly documented the situations that will direct how information will be exchanged over GBS, interconnected with other systems.

GBS is just one of many communications services being fielded or planned for our national defense information infrastructure. National security information managers of the next decade will determine precisely the media, systems or services by which national security information exchange requirements will be supported. However, the criteria they will use in exploiting GBS services together with other systems and services are unclear.

Future intelligence operations will require a high-speed flow of multimedia communications and information. Although intelligence information producers and users represent a subset of potential GBS user communities, the volume of their products, which are associated with their missions, makes them a significant segment of potential GBS subscribers.

GBS is not intended to replace existing Military Satellite Communications systems, but it will augment them by providing the capability to quickly distribute large amounts of information to small, deployed user platforms. For example, GBS will be capable of delivering data at speeds up to 30 megabits/sec to antennas as small as 22 inches in diameter, making it feasible to send large information streams and files directly to Navy ships.

Information will be developed and distributed using a "smart-push/user-pull" philosophy to avert saturating deployed forces with "information overload."

Commanders in chief's theater information managers will tailor information services for field units to optimize the smart-push aspect of the GBS system. To accommodate pull applications, theater information managers will identify processes whereby commanders in the field can demand information.

A key feature of GBS will be CINC-responsive satellite broadcast management. Commanders are expected to have the ability to tailor broadcast services for field units. The satellite broadcast manager will manage broadcast resources regionally under direction of the regional CINC. The theater information manager will have primary control over what kind of information is sent, when it is sent and to whom it is sent. The satellite broadcast manager will coordinate with theater information managers to accept, package and schedule the information to be broadcast. The commander or soldier who receives the information will use a broadcast manager suite to process the broadcast so that information can be routed to local systems such as networks, workstations, servers and display devices.

CINCs also are expected to have the ability to push real-time and near-real-time theater source information to users operating within a theater, based on needed information profiles maintained by the CINCs and advertised across the defense information infrastructure. This may be accomplished from the "theater injection point" or through "virtual injection." The theater injection point is made up of transportable uplink equipment that directs telecommunications to the appropriate satellite broadcast transponder. Virtual injection is the ability to transmit theater source information to the broadcast management segment by other telecommunications resources, and it ultimately would enter the GBS at a primary injection point.

GBS is expected to provide broadcast services to selected echelons through a layered, scalable architecture. This architecture is expected to compensate for differences in security classification levels, classes of subscribers and methods of receipt by subscribers. It is expected to be subscribers' responsibility to process information addressed to them in a manner suiting their needs. Depending upon those needs, their receiver equipment is expected to support stand-alone and networked configurations.

But the lack of data about future information requirements -- particularly imagery and other geospatial information -- is hindering a clear understanding of the potential routing of intelligence information over GBS. Information flows across all government-owned and -leased information transport services in all directions: from national sources in the continental United States to theater subscribers; from theater information sources to GBS primary injection points and theater injection point uplinks; and among units within a theater.

Many of these exchanges can use other government transport services. But for time-sensitive information, requirements have not been completely worked out. DOD does not fully understand small intertheater information exchange requirements nor has it developed scenarios that show it anticipates significant intertheater information flows between, for example, a major conflict in one region and a peacekeeping mission in an adjoining region.

A factor in determining whether an information exchange requirement is candidate to be carried on GBS is the dynamically increasing throughput of other information transport media that interface with and are potential substitutes for GBS. Other telecommunications services must be considered in determining potential GBS requirements, including the Defense Information Systems Network Standard Tactical Entry Points, deployed DISN and interconnected high-capacity tactical networks. The issue of what goes over GBS and what can be handled by other means becomes critical to clarifying valid intelligence usage requirements.

The design of subscriber equipment is another factor influencing information exchange requirements for GBS. Equipment will determine the information processing and management capabilities of GBS subscribers. Density and capability also impact network management, and such resources ultimately determine available GBS throughput and service/system costs. Decisions on cost vs. capabilities of subscriber equipment must be made before reliable insight to information usage requirements can be realized.

Optimally managing the flow of information across GBS can only be accomplished through consistent and coherent information dissemination management policies and practices across the combined information transport services of the defense information infrastructure. Total information dissemination management of these resources is key to optimizing GBS' utility to national security operations.

Developing the management interfaces for both the terrestrial and space components of interfacing networks, establishing the interlinking management protocols, migrating networks to provide Asynchronous Transfer Mode or ATM-interface compatibility, and linking DOD-wide network and data management is a complex challenge.

Establishment of a DOD-wide information dissemination management capability and consistent common regional command operations concept for GBS must precede any reliable expression of intelligence information exchange requirements for GBS services. And investment of scarce taxpayer dollars in a system or service without a clear understanding of the requirements it is to support is foolhardy and wasteful.

-- Elliott, a retired federal government executive with more than 30 years experience in national security, most recently served as director of the Intelligence Systems Secretariat, an organization with responsibilities spanning several executive departments and agencies. He served on the federal CIO Council, the Military Intelligence Board and the Military Communications-Electronics Board.

Copyright 1999 Federal Computer Week (FCW) Government Technology Group

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