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Upgrading Military Communications

By Richard Halloran

The basic commands of "shoot, move, and communicate" apply to a squad of riflemen on the ground, a flotilla of warships at sea, and an armada of bombers in the air. Of the three, communicate can often be the most decisive in making for success or failure.

Or, as a battle hardened corps commander in the army once said, in colorful if somewhat inelegant language:
"If you ain't got communications, you ain't got nuthin'."

In the Pacific and Asia, the armed forces of the United States are undergoing perhaps the most extensive changes since World War II. As an essential element of that transition, the Army has begun to strengthen its communications apparatus to enable the Army of the Pacific to be transformed from an administrative headquarters to an expeditionary, warfighting command.

Upgrading Army communications has so far revolved around two moves:

* A signal brigade has been transferred from Fort Meade, Maryland, to Fort Shafter, Hawaii, to become a signal command responsible for Army communications In Hawaii, Alaska, Japan, and the southern island of Japan, Okinawa-and wherever else in the Asia-Pacific region that soldiers might be deployed. The 311 Signal Command is led by a major general, Donna L. Dacier.

General Dacier was quoted in a unit publication as saying that when her command is fully operational, expected by the end of this year, the Army of the Pacific could take on any mission "and get safe, secure, and reliable communications from the foxhole back to the garrison."

* A signal battalion has been moved from South Korea to Hawaii to handle the communications of combat units that might be dispatched to the far corners of the region that extends across the Pacific and Indian Oceans to the east coast of Africa. The 307th Signal Battalion is commanded by a lieutenant abocolonel, Timothy W. Walrod.

Colonel Walrod, whose unit is also expected to be fully operational by the end of this year, was quoted as giving a wry bit of philosophy to his troops about leaving South Korea to become the newest unit in the Army of the Pacific: "We have no bad habits, no good habits. We have no reputation.(so) we must excel."

Moreover, the transfer of this battalion to Hawaii reflects the steady reduction of US forces in South Korea as the South Korean armed forces have become capable of defending their nation from an attack by North Korea with minimal US help. That reduction has also been motivated by anti-American outbursts suggesting that US forces are no longer welcome in South Korea.

In a similar move, the Air Force is transferring a combat communications squadron from South Korea to the island of Guam, which is being built up as a bastion in the western Pacific. That communications unit would support bombers and fighters at Anderson Air Force Base if the aircraft were sent into combat.

Likewise, a "Red Horse" engineering unit is being transferred from South Korea to Guam to help construct new facilities to support aerial operations, what in military lingo is called infrastructure, meaning roads, water pipelines, electric power plants and grids, and sewage lines.

In addition to providing communications, the signal command must maintain the security of its extensive network of message traffic, telecommunications, radio transmissions, and video conference calls. A team of about 15 soldiers has mounted a 24-hour watch in an operations security center to detect routine breakdowns and especially attempts by hackers to get into the network to disrupt it or to steal information.

The center uses a defense in depth to protect the network that includes a series of checkpoints, firewalls, scanners, anti-virus programs and encryption devices, all intended to block intrusions.
In the skies above, satellites called Ping Sweep and War Dialer monitors attempts to penetrate the network.

China's Peoples Liberation Army, for instance, has begun to emphasize information warfare. A recent Pentagon report asserted that the PLA had established units "to develop viruses to attack enemy computer systems and networks, and tactics and measures to protect friendly computers systems and networks."

A researcher at the conservative Heritage Foundation, John Tkacik, asserted in a recent essay that PLA units began attack US government networks in 2003. Several attacks were traced, Tkacik said, to a network in southern China. Other Chinese "hackers" were reported to have attacked British computer systems, the State Department, the Department of Commerce, and the US Naval War College.

Richard Halloran, a free lance writer in Honolulu, was a military correspondent for The New York Times for ten years. He can be reached at oranhall@hawaii.rr.com

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