Justin T. Kates
Amateur: KB3JUV Military/DHS SHARES: AAT3OT
Communication Corps Coordinator
Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA)
Work: 302.760.3738
Cell: 302.236.3716
[email protected]

Transformation of the Signal Corps and Army MARS

Over the past few years, the United States Army Signal Corps has been
undergoing a major transformation from analog point to point radio and
computer networks to flexible internet protocol (IP) based multimedia
communications systems. Our nation's military has always been known
for having the newest technologies on the battlefield but this takes a
new meaning in the 21st Century. With the increased role of the
military in disaster and homeland security missions, their
communications technologies must be flexible between contention in the
Middle East and hurricanes in the Gulf Coast.

The Army has recently developed a new package called the Joint
Network Node -
Network (JNN-N) which allows for satellite and terrestrial
telecommunications in the battlefield. This type of system is new for
the Army because it allows the soldiers in the theater to communicate
using Voice over IP and Video over IP, as well as e-mail and text
communications. Flexibility is the key in this system. Using a
combination of different technologies, the JNN can provide internet
connectivity using wired or wireless around a large area. What's the
benefit of a system like this? With internet connectivity they can
send an e-mail on a commercial internet connection or even Winlink

Most people underestimate the importance the internet has on daily
operations at home, in the workplace, and in war. The Army
communicates daily
using e-mail with multimedia enhanced documents, videos, and other
files. They can't just refer to analog phones and radio systems if
that service is cut off, they must find other ways to send their
messages. Using technologies such as the JNN-Network, the Army is
internet enabled wherever they go.

Military Affiliate Radio System operators have also been transforming
knowledge and technologies such as radio-based e-mail systems. For
Army and Air Force MARS, the adoption of Winlink 2000 has enabled the
military, the federal government, state and local government, and
users easy interoperability with standard e-mail compliant
communications. Now an Army General can send an email through a DoD
satellite or HF to an Army MARS station located at an EOC fifty miles
away without any need for commercial land-based internet connectivity
in the affected area. These internet based technologies both civilian
and military have enabled the Army and other customers full
interoperability with MARS operator stations.

The JNN-Network was deployed during the Hurricane Katrina disaster
efforts in support of U.S. NORTHCOM (Northern Command), FEMA
(Federal Emergency Management Agency), and the Department of Homeland
Security. It was noted that these systems helped patch communications
in areas without cell phone service or landline service. Winlink 2000
also was used during Katrina to support emergency management officials
with e-mail communications. Even though the JNN-Network and Winlink
2000 completely different technologies, the purpose behind them is the
same---to provide communications when normal means are unavailable.

Another new technology that U.S. CENTCOM (Central Command) has been
working with is the Radio-over-IP router network, also known as RIPRNET. With
this technology, the DoD can bring soldiers out of the warzone at
dangerous radio relay stations and instead replace them with radios
connected to computers similar to how the Amateur Service Echolink
works. In this case, the communication gap has greatly been reduced
by the addition of these "radio internet bridges". Not only does the
internet link greatly increase the flexibility of the system, RIPRNET
allows for UHF, VHF, and HF radios all to be connected. That way a
soldier with a VHF radio can talk to someone via HF, or on a computer.
And the best part about the system is that if one of the computer
relay stations is damaged, malfunctioning, or destroyed, the system can
"self-heal" and route radio traffic through other functional stations.

So what exactly are the differences between the communications
differences between the Internet Protocol (IP) world and the "traditional" radio
communications world? You would be surprised by how much is
different. For example, IP networks include technologies that are
flexible and efficient requiring as less transmission time as
possible. IP communications are so flexible to the point that as long
as you know who you want to communicate with, the internet will find
its way around to the recipient. And it doesn't matter what way you
would like to communicate either. It can be text, voice, or video.
Of course video will require much more "bandwidth" then text
communications, but since it is all based off of the same protocol,
any communication medium can be sent using the same technology.

And since IP systems are so flexible, old routing systems become
obsolete.  Our former gateway system is no longer needed when you can send a
message through a network that will forward using the best means
possible. Previously, that message would be send from the state
gateway to the region gateway. If propagation between the gateway was
poor, that message wouldn't be going anywhere. Now we can use the
entire network to send our messages. What happened to precedence,
logs, and handling instructions? With the IP based systems most of
that is automatically taken care of. The user inputs all data when
messages are sent using audio, text, or video and is embedded the
entire way. This creates a much quicker and simpler way to get our
message sent.

You may ask then, "If the internet is so flexible
and robust, why is MARS still around?". In MARS we are able to
converge those traditional communications networks with the flexible
internet based networks when either side is down. Both radio and
internet have their downsides. No matter what, we will get the
message through whether it requires e-mail or HF voice.

MARS has changed from providing just analog radio communications to
the prevalent e-mail and text. Our customers use e-mail everyday and will
be able to continue to when their commercial service is out thanks to
Winlink 2000. Could there be a day when MARS operators are providing
digital video over HF radio to our customers? It's entirely possible
with the transformation we've made over the many years MARS has been

If you're interested in some of the new communications
technologies the Army is working with, you should check out Army
Communicator Magazine online. It's written by folks in the Army and
published out of Ft. Gordon, GA. You can view the magazine online as
a PDF file. To download visit:
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