Pentagon accelerates homeland security communications system

The Pentagon announced this week that it will fund the fast-track development of an experimental communications system to enable federal, state and local emergency response officials to share terrorist threat information and coordinate their emergency response capabilities.

"We need to have a command and control system ... so that all parties and first responders can talk to each other," Sue Payton, deputy undersecretary of Defense for advanced systems and concepts, said Tuesday during a Pentagon briefing.

The "Homeland Security Command and Control" initiative is one of 15 projects selected by Pentagon officials as part of this year's $159 million Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrations (ACTD) program. The seven-year-old ACTD program helps expedite the development and delivery of innovative technologies to meet pressing military needs. The program enables warfighters to use prototypes of developing technologies in the field, bypassing the traditional defense acquisitions process, which often takes years.

"The ACTD program really exists so we can marry operational requirements ... with new technologies and solutions," Payton said, noting that the high-profile Predator and Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles started out as ACTD projects.

This year's homeland security project would enhance the communications capabilities of first responders, many of whom were unable to communicate on the same frequencies as military officials on Sept. 11. Payton said software-programmable communications systems are also being developed as part of the project, "so that everyone can go to the same [network] and ... talk to each other."

This year's ACTD program would fund several other counterterrorism measures, including a "hyperspectral collection and analysis system" (HYCAS) that would make it easier for warfighters to locate targets by combining and processing vast amounts of sensor data.

Another demonstration project, called the Coalition Information Assurance Common Operational Procedure, is designed to help prevent cyber attacks when U.S. military networks are linked with those of allied forces. The experimental system would enable officials to detect network intrusion and share information about network stability with their coalition partners.

The ACTD projects also include an automated language translator system, which would rapidly translate oral and written communications between U.S. warfighters and their foreign allies. Payton said coalition partners in Afghanistan often fall 10 to 12 hours behind in supporting U.S. forces, because it takes them so long to translate U.S. documents relating to daily missions.

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