Defense agency submits blast-proof budget request for White House communications

Proposal includes development of network for president and other top officials that could operate after nuclear blast.

The 2009 budget of the White House Communications Agency offers rare insights into communications systems used by the president and other top federal officials, including development of a nationwide network capable of operating after exposure to a potentially crippling high-altitude electromagnetic pulse (HEMP) from a nuclear blast.

WHCA, managed by the Defense Information Systems Agency, disclosed in its budget that the electromagnetic pulse network, will be based on wide-area synchronous optical networking fiber rings with redundant connectivity between HEMP and non-HEMP networks.

HEMP is part of the Senior Leadership Communication System, a series of interrelated operational systems and networks that support the president, vice president, Congress, secretary of Defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs and their allies.

These systems and networks would provide transmission support to senior leadership personnel immediately following a HEMP attack on the United States or overseas, the agency said. Funding would cover deployments of networks and shelters.

DISA also operates the Enhanced Pentagon Capability/Survivable Emergency Conferencing Network -- a configuration of systems for the president and military commanders. The network can operate after an attack through the use of HEMP-protected Milstar Satellite Communications terminals and the secure Defense Red Switch Network.

Even though the Cold War has ended, the United States must be concerned about nuclear blasts knocking out critical communications systems, said Philip Coyle, senior adviser to the Center for Defense Information, who served as assistant secretary of Defense and director of Operational Test and Evaluation Directorate from 1994 to 2001.

Coyle studied the effects of nuclear blasts, including electromagnetic pulse, during his earlier work at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. He said it would be prudent to develop a HEMP-proof network as a safety net in case of a nuclear attack by North Korea or Iran. "Why have we taken so long to do so?" he said. "We have known of this threat for 40 years."

WHCA asked for $74.5 million in its 2009 procurement budget, up $24.7 million, or 50 percent, from 2008. The agency requested $154.7 million for operations and maintenance, up $12.4 million, or 9 percent, from the previous year.

Besides the HEMP network, the 2009 WHCA procurement budget includes conversion of presidential communications systems to Internet protocol-based networks, which means voice, video and data all will be carried as bits in the same stream. The Head of State network, used by the president to communicate with foreign leaders, also will be upgraded to an IP network.

The procurement budget also includes upgrades to the agency's Washington Area System network, modernization of six network switches in Washington, the transition of secure telephone units to IP-based phones, the purchase of 24 secure deployable voice switches, an upgrade of narrow and wideband satellite systems, and conversion of the radio network used for presidential travels to an IP-based system.

DISA asked for $69.9 million, a 68 percent increase, for the Crisis Management System, which supports the president, Cabinet secretaries and agency heads. CMS, which involves high-definition multimedia teleconferencing, will be installed at 64 fixed and mobile sites, according to the agency.

DISA said crisis management gear will be included in a wide range of presidential aircraft, including new VH-71 helicopters under development by Lockheed Martin Corp., which won a $6 billion contract in January 2005. Funding also will cover CMS installation on the next-generation version of Air Force One as well as six VIP Boeing 757s and two VIP Boeing 737s in 2009.

CMS will provide a secure, dedicated network capable of handling exchange of full-motion video, voice and data communications.