Latest radio technology declared ready
Prior to departing Camp Liberty for an eight-hour patrol through Baghdad, Staff Sgt. Justin Geers (inside vehicle) relays the number of people and vehicles in his patrol to Army Sgt. Bronwen Thompson. Once outside the camp, communication assets are critical. Sergeant Geers is the Air Force security forces squad leader. Sergeant Geers and his 12-member squad are assigned to the 732nd Expeditionary Mission Support Group's Detachment 7. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Scott Wagers)
by Staff Sgt. Francesca Popp
U.S. Central Command Air Forces Public Affairs
1/19/2007 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNEWS) -- For nearly a year, the Air Force has developed and tested a communications system allowing commanders to talk directly to troops operating convoys outside the bases.
Today, Radio over Internet Protocol Router network, or RIPRnet has earned its initial operational capablity title, achieving a critical milestone in the program's short history.
More specifically, it has helped how convoys in Iraq conduct command-and-control operations.
"It enables, for the first time, the Army to pull hundreds of Soldiers back inside the wire to the main operating bases, rather than keeping them stationed at small outposts along roadsides," said Lt. Col. Marty Schlacter, the Combined Air Operations Center's Architectures and Integration Division chief. "It provides senior decision makers with the ability to determine the proper air and ground mix supporting convoy operations, thus freeing up aircraft for other high-priority missions."
As the division chief, Colonel Schlacter oversaw the RIPRnet developers, installers, maintainers and support teams. He said the system also accelerates the response times for emergency and recovery forces by directly receiving distress calls and not relying on a third party.
RIPRnet was originally designed to have direct voice communications with people working in the CAOC and the fighter aircraft patrolling the skies over Baghdad -- more than 700 miles away.
"After proving itself in that role, it was expanded to allow air support operations center controllers to talk to close-air support aircraft flying over Iraq on a standby orbit," said Colonel Schlacter, who is deployed from Air Mobility Command Latest headquarters at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. "(The network) then expanded to provide Soldiers and Marines with the ability to directly contact logistical convoys anywhere on Iraq's main supply routes."
RIPRnet extends the range and flexibility for communications, covering areas that might have been dead spots before.
"RIPRnet has allowed our (tactical radios) to transmit and receive FM communications over a far greater area than our alternate (radios) are capable of," said Army Sgt. Maj. Danny Toivonen, the operations sergeant major for a tactical operations center at Balad Air Base, Iraq. "The system has allowed our (radios) to keep a more consistent communication link with convoys throughout the area of operations."
While this latest technological advance is not replacing current communications, it does provide another avenue for senior leaders to talk directly with the warfighters. RIPRnet can be anywhere users want it to be, as long as they have a long-haul circuit to get it there, Colonel Schlacter said.
The colonel explained how the RIPRnet is best used by convoys traveling across Iraq. Before RIPRnet, once a convoy left a forward-operating base, it would lose traditional radio communications after several miles.
"With RIPRnet, the origination point can maintain direct audio contact with the convoy throughout the day or night, regardless of whose battlespace they're in, or how far they have traveled," Colonel Schlacter said. "It provides the ability to perform true end-to-end (command and control) from origination to destination, and anywhere in between."
Initially, the troops in the convoys were hard to convince.
"The convoy controllers/operators now using RIPRnet were the most skeptical as we developed the system. Who can blame them? Their lives are on the line every day in those convoys," said Col. Mike Lewis, CAOC coalition director of command, control, computers and communications. "They are now our biggest advocates."
The newfound advocates are spreading the word about RIPRnet.
"The system is excellent," Sergeant Major Toivonen said, who noted that other units have asked if they can get the system in their tactical operations centers. "The convoys are reassured they will be able to reach assistance throughout the area of operations. It provides a direct link for convoys to request medical evacuations, quick-response forces and recovery assets in case of an emergency."
For the Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines who use RIPRnet, it means they will have persistent, clear, secure and reliable communications across the battlefield.
"RIPRnet, as a program, is just getting started. As we move forward, RIPRnet will continue to expand to new missions and enhance operations in ways we never could have envisioned," Colonel Lewis said. "It will save the lives of troops we have never even met. As an Airman, it simply doesn't get any better than that."
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