Arizona Test Center Keeps Communications Working in Bosnia
By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service
FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz., Feb. 14, 1996 Defense communications officials have found many commercial vendors and service programmanagers sent untested equipment and software to troops in Bosnia.
Still, officials with the Joint Interoperability Test Commandhere are helping field commanders correct problems caused bycommunications equipment upgrades and system incompatibilities.
In addition, teams from the command's Warfighter Support Branch are in Croatia and Bosnia. The teams are surveying equipment, providing technical support and documenting the communication role.
The Joint Interoperability Test Command, a branch of the Defense Information Systems Agency, tests and certifies command, control, communications, computer and intelligence equipment interoperability. Interoperability in the communications world means transmitting and receiving data using a variety of equipment unique to each service or ally. The problem in Bosnia is upgrades, not new equipment or software, officials said.
"Some companies have contracts with the four branches to provide upgraded services," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Wayne Sharer, a staff officer with the command's Warfighter Support Branch. "They'll have a product originally tested and certified here, then upgrade the product with the service without it returning here.
"What they don't realize is that modifying one part of the system may affect another," said Sharer. "It has to be retested or problems might pop up in the field. It's an ongoing problem DoD is trying to control."
When a contractor produces equipment or software for themilitary, the test command analyzes the product at Fort Huachuca.Working together, manufacturers and DoD specialists evaluate productsfor interoperability. The equipment or software then goes through ajoint field exercise where command technicians and contractors evaluateits field performance. Sharer said the command can recertify equipment modifications in the field and allow fielding.
Still, uncertified equipment and software is getting to Bosniaand causing problems. Sharer said the command is working on the problem.
"We do daily phone calls and conference calls to the [NATO's joint command and control communications center] in Zagreb [Croatia]," said Sharer. He gets information on the technical problems affecting units in Bosnia. "Usually we have a contractor, some military folks or some government technicians here take questions over the phone and start our research."
To increase command accessibility, service members with equipment or software questions can use e-mail to file their inquiries. The warfighter support address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Sharer said there is also a toll-free number (800) LET JITC to take telephone questions on communications problems.
Another way the command solves problems is by replicatingoverseas systems. The command has communications vans to duplicate field conditions. Using these systems, operators simulate Bosnia and test new or modified systems.
Sharer said technicians and contractors can evaluate the transmissions and work around system roadblocks.
Recently, the command took another step toward solving equipment problems overseas -- sending a team to Europe to assist NATO Implementation Force communications units. Sharer said two military officers, two government civilian technicians and a contractor can help units.
In addition, Sharer said teams are documenting Joint Endeavor's communication network. Sharer said this lets the command know what systems are in Bosnia and how they are working with NATO allies. "This way, when Congress asks how we helped NATO in this area, we can show them how these systems were laid out," he said.
Sharer said these problems are not new, adding they happen inall contingencies. "Our staffers are knowledgeable and familiar withwhat's been tested," said Sharer. "We know what to ask and who to callto certify equipment. If we can get our hands on it, we'll test it."