By Mr. William B King (2nd Signal Brigade)June 29, 2017
MIHAIL KOGALNICEANU, Romania -- For U.S. Army network engineers from the 2nd Theater Signal Brigade, preparing for exercise Saber Guardian 17 involved a straightforward task: design and maintain a robust, redundant and secure Mission Partner Environment network capable of providing a range of essential voice and data communications services supporting thousands of users from 30 nations operating across several countries, in sometimes austere environments.
Exercise Saber Guardian 17, a U.S. Army Europe-led, multinational exercise, will take place in Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania July 11-20, 2017. Saber Guardian 17 is larger in both scale and scope over its predecessors. Approximately 25,000 service members from 30 partner nations will take part, and the exercise will highlight participant deterrence capabilities, specifically the ability to mass forces at any given time anywhere in Europe.
For Saber Guardian 17, network engineers overcame several language and technical interoperability barriers to create an Army Coalition Mission Environment network, or ACME, a U.S.-accredited Mission Partner Network. ACME provides users with the six essential core communications functions of voice, video teleconference (VTC), SharePoint, chat, common operating picture (COP), and domain services, which includes user accounts and email.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Christopher Culp, assigned to the U.S. Army Europe G-6 Communications and Information Management section, credited the months of planning and cooperation between units, agencies, and partner and ally nations in planning and designing the exercise network architecture.
"To get where we'll be in two to three weeks when the exercise is going on, it was six months of planning, gathering requirements, allocating assets," Culp said.
Equipment was preloaded with the necessary configurations and tested in a lab environment prior to shipping out to Saber Guardian 17, streamlining the process for bringing those pieces of equipment onto the network later. Voice and VTC services are hosted on site at the exercise, while all other services are hosted in Grafenwoehr, Germany. Everything, however, can be remotely managed by the engineers in the Network Operations Center at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, Romania.
Capt. Vince Schuele, a network engineer assigned to the 44th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, 2nd Theater Signal Brigade, said network engineers wanted to make a network that would function regardless of where the individual or system was located or how they connected to the network, either by satellite or commercial services.
"By bringing together multiple different transport architectures into one network at the bottom level, we'll make a repeatable, flexible, deployable system that is the same configurations regardless of where you are," Schuele said.
Culp said that through ACME, different levels of services can be provided to different countries depending on their requirements.
"ACME has to be controlled, administered and configured in every way by U.S. elements, but we can extend services through the ACME to partner nations," Culp explained. "All the way from we provide them everything and they sit in our space and it's a shared environment, all the way up to we just connect our network to their network, like what we're doing with the Romanians."
However, providing differing levels of service to U.S. and multinational partners and allies over a common network is no easy task.
"Being able to segregate all of these countries onto their own routing without having to compromise any of the U.S. traffic, that's something that requires a lot of engineering and something that's been accomplished at the highest levels," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Marvin Henriquez, a network management technician assigned to 2nd Theater Signal Brigade.
Sgt. 1st Class Homer Bussa, a plans and engineering noncommissioned officer assigned to the 44th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, said that ultimately the network will enable mission command for U.S. and multinational commanders down to the lowest level.
"It gives us the ability to have a combined, shared COP with all the warfighters across the battlefield. So we can communicate with the Romanians, Bulgarians, Hungarians and other key players in this exercise so commanders have the exact same battlefield picture across the spectrum," Bussa said.
Culp said the size of the network for Saber Guardian 17 and the on-the-ground team dynamic are the primary differences between previous exercise networks such as during Anakonda 16 in Poland.
"This is a very sexy implementation of network operations -- it's a very next-level network," Culp said.
2nd Theater Signal Brigade conducts Department of Defense Information Network operations to enable mission command in support of U.S. Army, Joint and multinational operations throughout the U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command areas of operation.