Joint Task Force Civil Support goes wireless for warfighter

By Capt Tracy Bunko | JTF-CS Public Affairs | September 13, 2006

FORT MONROE, Va. — When responding to an emergency, minutes, even seconds, count - and when you deploy as part of that response, time is one thing you can’t bring with you. A new communications capability, developed for Joint Task Force Civil Support by U.S. Joint Forces Command, will not only save hours during the unit’s initial set-up, but will make the task force leaner and more effective.

The network capability, called Wireless for the Warfighter, or W4W, allows JTF-CS to deploy to an area where there is no established communications network and effectively command and control responding Department of Defense forces within a few hours, according to Lt. Col. Curtis Fox, Chief of the JTF-CS Communications Directorate’s Deployable Operations Division.

“Our mission is two-part," Fox said, "all the planning that goes into a CBRNE response and then to deploy and take command and control of DoD forces. The quicker you can do that, the quicker you can start saving lives.”

Responding to a CBRNE, or chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive, incident could mean moving people and equipment anywhere in the United States and, according to Fox, being able to operate quickly and effectively is crucial.

“Currently JTF-CS deploys from a communications perspective with roughly 50 transit cases, and it takes us anywhere from 12 to 18 hours or more to set up,” he said. “Going wireless will allow us to cut at least a third of those cases and we can be up and running in a fraction of the time.

“When you look at our resources - money, manpower and performance - we can’t continue to operate that way. It takes too long to set the networks up the way they are now. We have to find faster, more efficient ways to do things.”

Plans to take the JTF-CS communications capability wireless have been ongoing for about two years, said Jon Kroskey, JTF-CS Communications Directorate Information Systems Engineer, and there were special considerations for the unit.

“We’re extremely mindful of the security side of this, and we didn’t have the manpower to develop what we needed," Kroskey said. "JFCOM’s Joint Systems Integration Command approached us with a proposal to provide a turnkey capability in a fully Information Assurance accredited product."

Part of that capability, Fox says, is to be able to set up with less consideration for what facilities are available on the ground.

“Once we get there, W4W allows us the flexibility to set up in a variety of locations,” he explained. “When responding to this type of incident, there are several unknowns. Floor space, number of buildings, layout and distance between the locations to which we are providing service can all affect a hard-wired system. A wireless set-up allows us to provide services in a geographically dispersed area to mitigate the effects of those factors.”

JSIC officials say W4W capability is roughly 5-10 miles, but advanced versions of the solution could “provide a wireless metropolitan area network” allowing for even greater flexibility, Fox said.

“For example, if something were to happen in Hampton Roads (Virginia), we could bring a JTF response unit to Langley [Air Force Base] and a medical task force to Fort Monroe and a support task force to Norfolk,” Fox explained. “I could use W4W technology to provide unclassified and classified computer communications for that whole bubble. Because it covers a wider area, I don’t need to bring so many communications assets in to support these task forces. W4W has the potential to change how we make use of the resources we have - to leverage technology to get maximum use out of those resources.”

And it’s technology that most people are familiar with. Although W4W is encrypted to allow only authorized users access, it’s essentially the same technology that allows you to set up your laptop computer at your local coffee shop and have instant Internet access.

“There’s nothing special about the technology that we want to employ – people use it every day,” Kroskey said. “It’s just a matter of getting used to using it for this type of mission.

“In the unit’s August exercise, for example, W4W allowed operators to use the wireless software and soft phone technology, which puts telephone capability on a laptop computer,” Kroskey said. “Exercise participants wore headsets and were able to make phone calls. It is a culture change for them to not look for a telephone receiver to pick up, but overall, people are extremely happy with the technology and that we are applying the technology that’s out there to help us do our mission.”