Training with Industry: a year with General Dynamics Communication Systems

by CPT Romeo Recchia

Over the past year I had the opportunity of participating in the Training with Industry program with General Dynamics. It’s my intent to share this experience with my fellow Signaleers and discuss the benefits this program provides the Army, the Signal Regiment and me.

TWI is a one-year work-experience program that provides extensive exposure to managerial techniques, industrial procedures and advancements in information and manufacturing technology used by major American corporations. With this new experience and knowledge, officers then serve a utilization tour where they’re expected to make significant contributions in related fields essential to the Army’s needs.

The intent of my TWI training program was to gain advanced understanding of telecommunications technologies and capabilities by direct association with experts in the field. I spent a year with General Dynamics Communication Systems in Taunton, Mass.

GDCS (formerly GTE Communication Systems Division) is an operating unit of the General Dynamics Corp. GDCS provides secure communication and information solutions that integrate custom-developed and commercial-off-the-shelf products for the military and commercial markets. It designs, integrates and supports strategic and tactical battlefield communication systems worldwide, including the Army’s mobile-subscriber equipment and triservice-tactical switching programs. GDCS also is the contractor for tactical-communications equipment for the first digitized division at Fort Hood, Texas; plus the primary contractor for the integrated-systems control and the Marine Corps’ tactical data network/digital technical control.

CPT Romeo Recchia with COL (Ret.) Ancil Hicks
CPT Romeo Recchia, seated, and Ancil Hicks, General Dynamics Communication Systems' TWI coordinator and a retired Signal Corps colonel, inside GDCS' FDD ATM net-control station shelter.
When I arrived at GDCS, company representatives provided me with an initial brief on the overall organization, structure, facility layout and manufacturing capabilities. The jointly developed training plan focused on gaining exposure to an array of GDCS business areas, mostly focusing on programs and technologies currently contracted for delivery to the Army. My focus was on three prevailing questions: How does this technology support and improve the warfighter’s capabilities? As a Signal company commander, can I maintain a high state of operational readiness? Would I go to war with this equipment?

My first block of instruction was the defense information infrastructure’s common operating environment. This area familiarized me with the standards and guidelines required by the Defense Department and Defense Information Services Agency, in which all hardware, software, operating systems and COTS products will be produced to maintain interoperability. The intent is to produce common, reusable and interoperable military software by avoiding the stovepipe mentality incorporated into earlier fielded systems like the worldwide military command-and-control system.

With DII-COE as a building block, my first area of familiarization was battlefield videoteleconferencing. The Signal Regiment understands the unlimited potential video has in military applications. Video is increasingly becoming a standard requirement for the warfighter. The training began with VTC fundamentals (H.32X/G.711, quality of service, collaboration and continuous presence), followed by an extensive vendor market analysis and testing of both H.320/323 clients. To stay current with technology, the Signal Regiment must incorporate video technology into its training. More training topics should include gateway, gatekeeper and multipoint-control-unit fundamentals.

Along with video technology, network security is another hurdle the Signal Regiment must overcome. This year’s rash of viruses (Love Bug, Resume) emphasizes the importance of maintaining a trusted data network. Recently, GDCS developed the information-assurance management cell and transportable assemblage-perimeter protection. This program follows DoD’s philosophy of defense-in-depth. Access and data traffic into a tactical network is controlled and closely monitored. COTS products such as firewall software, network intrusion-detection systems and the use of in-line encryptors help safeguard tactical networks. The IAMC/TA-PP program provided me with a general understanding of network IDSs, security, firewalls and C2 protect tools.

GDCS’ solution to Army tactical-network management is ISYSCON. Recently the government conducted its formal qualification test for ISYSCON in North Carolina. ISYSCON is the automated, theater-wide, tactical-communications network-management system used to plan, configure, monitor and control the entire spectrum of military tactical-communications systems. ISYSCON features include mission-plan management, network planning and engineering, battlefield-frequency-spectrum management, tactical-packet-network management and wide-area-network management. These enhancements simplify the S-3’s planning and management of tactical-communications networks. In the near future, more enhancements will incorporate frequency management for the high-capacity line-of-sight radio. ISYSCON incorporates impressive enhancements in line-of-sight profiling. Laying down a network is simplified through three-dimensional images while instantly identifying terrain high points.

One of the most interesting areas of my training was the FDD program. This training concentrated on the innovations and improvements made to MSE switching equipment and provided me the opportunity to participate in an actual government product-acceptance test and evaluation.

FDD switches use asynchronous-transfer mode technology to meet the Army’s need to more efficiently use limited bandwidth resources because of increased demand from multimedia applications, while still maintaining current legacy circuit-switch capabilities. It allocates bandwidth on demand, making it suitable for high-speed connection of voice, data and video services. ATM combines the advantages of circuit-switching (constant-bit-rate services like voice and image) and packet-switching (variable-bit-rate services such as data and full-motion video) technologies. The ATM cell structure identifies the virtual path (virtual circuit), virtual channel, payload type, cell-loss priority, flow control and header error control.

All this technology continues to help the Signal Regiment evolve and modernize to meet growing demand. ATM technology is a step towards improving warfighters’ capabilities by providing the larger data pipes necessary to support their needs. Today’s Signal soldiers greatly benefit by gaining skill and experience using real-world commercial technology. From a leader’s perspective, the extensive use of routers and Internet-protocol-based technology will make switch operations, network planning and network management more challenging for the Signal community. Managing individual component configurations, access control lists and IP addressing schemes must be closely monitored and preciously implemented. If not, troubleshooting will be more difficult.

To ensure operational readiness, thorough training in data networks must be taught and understood at all levels. These advancements in technology provide us the modern equipment for the battlefield, but well-trained soldiers who are network savvy ensure we know how to implement and manage it.

Throughout my tenure at GDCS, I participated in several design and in-process reviews with representatives from the Signal Center at Fort Gordon, Ga., from the project manager for Warfighter Information Network-tactical at Fort Monmouth, N.J., and from 124th Signal Battalion at Fort Hood, Texas. During equipment tests and fieldings, I spoke with soldiers, gathered comments and provided feedback to GDCS and PM-WIN-T for system improvements.

TWI requires that officers pursue a self-study program to supplement corporate training. GDCS in-house seminars offer an opportunity to attend lectures on a variety of topics such as IA, wavelength division multiplexing and public key infrastructure. GDCS offers easy access to a variety of computer-based-training aides, along with a resource library to expand one’s technical background. Since many universities offer distance learning over the worldwide web, pursuing graduate-level studies is simplified. Without question, the greatest asset available is unimpeded access to the full spectrum of electrical, mechanical and software engineers within GDCS.

TWI offers several benefits to the individual officer as well as to the Signal Regiment and the Army. The officer observes commercial innovations used in military applications to enhance legacy systems, while gaining insight into future advancements in tactical-communications technology. Also, the officer sees firsthand the challenges and complexity commercial business contends with to solve today’s network limitations. The officer observes the role COTS products play in system integration and the double-edged sword this presents to the defense contractor. The associated cost in research and development is reduced, but vendor claims of interoperability may not be completely accurate and vendors have no plan to support the product after fielding. Finally, the officer has a better understanding at the macro level of the intricate workings of a program lifecycle. Officers gain insight into design, development, integration and testing through product acceptance and final fielding.

The Army and Signal Regiment benefit by educating a military officer on current technology; the officer understands the delicate relationship between achieving military requirements and the challenges faced by defense contractors. The officer possesses insight on the interrelationships and impacts across all levels and agencies, and gains an understanding of DoD’s long-term vision and operational requirements.

Another important aspect officers may gain is understanding of the PM’s role in ensuring that contractors meet program specifications and standards. Officers observe firsthand the internal workings of the defense contractor to meet these requirements. The Army gains officers who have knowledge in leading industrial procedures and current trends in industrial technology. The military continues to perpetuate a relationship with the commercial sector to share technology and innovation, which serves the best interest of all.

GDCS has participated in the TWI program for many years, providing military officers exposure to advanced technologies and business solutions. General Dynamics was a gracious host to me and very accommodating, ensuring my assignment was both personally and professionally rewarding. I recommend officers consider TWI as an opportunity to broaden their technical background and knowledge. TWI can provide firsthand insight on how corporate America plans to use advancements in technology to meet the Army’s growing needs.

CPT Recchia’s previous assignments include system engineer with 93d Signal Brigade; commander, Company D, 63d Signal Battalion; and Signal officer, 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Division (Mechanized), Camp Hovey, Korea.

Acronym QuickScan
ATM – asynchronous-transfer mode
C2 – command and control
COTS – commercial-off-the-shelf
DII-COE – defense information infrastructure-common operating environment
DoD – Department of Defense
FDD – first digitized division
GDCS – General Dynamics Communication Systems (division in Taunton, Mass.)
IA – information assurance
IAMC – information-assurance management cell
IDS – intrusion-detection system
IP – Internet protocol
ISYSCON – integrated-systems control
MSE – mobile-subscriber equipment
PM-WIN-T – project manager for Warfighter Information Network-tactical
TA-PP – transportable assemblage-perimeter protection
TWI – Training with Industry
VTC – videoteleconference(ing)

dividing rule

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