Automatic Digital Network is dead – long live Defense Message System

by CPT Bryan Canter

The Army issued a message in November 1999 requiring sensitive-but-unclassified and "secret" organizational users to have an active Defense Message System account no later than Feb. 15, so if you’re an organizational user and don’t have a DMS account, contact your directorate of information management immediately! DMS software Version 2.1 has been fielded strategically at SBU and secret levels to posts, camps and stations around the world.

An organizational user is the command authority or authorizing official in an Army unit or organization, down to at least battalion level. In other words, the organizational user is the person who can commit resources for the organization and issue or receive official taskings. The command authority can request more DMS accounts for staff officers to accommodate local staffing procedures and policies.

Why DMS?

DMS is mandated for implementation throughout the Defense Department. But that fact alone isn’t really enough to convince most commanders to get on the DMS bandwagon. Unfortunately some commanders don’t recognize the vulnerability of their information systems. It’s in the area of information assurance that DMS’ value becomes readily apparent.

IA task forces have recently highlighted the vulnerability of DoD’s information systems. Due to the rapid propagation of email throughout the Army, use of the Automatic Digital Network – the Army’s sole trusted system for handling official record traffic – has virtually ceased. Except for a few specialty applications, AUTODIN is dead. A significant amount of critical command-and-control is conducted via standard email.

This is a problem because email isn’t a trusted system. With a standard email message, there’s no assurance of the sender’s identity or that the message wasn’t intercepted, altered or infected with a virus between being sent and received. As a sender, you have no assurance your message was ever received. If you suspect a message was lost somehow, there’s no way to trace it. DMS provides these capabilities, which are essential to our critical command, control and logistic communications systems.

The following scenario illustrates the importance of the IA capabilities DMS provides. Several months ago, an email message was circulated about new guidance from the Army’s chief of staff. The message spread rapidly throughout the Washington, D.C., area and to several other major headquarters worldwide. The message said that use of the term "Army After Next" was to be discontinued and replaced by the term "Army Vision 2010 and Beyond." The directive seemed reasonable, and it appeared to have come from a credible source, so staff officers the world around began scrambling to update their briefing slides with the new terminology. About five days later, another message was circulated stating the original message was bogus, a hoax.

The damage was limited to a few angry staff officers and a little minor embarrassment. Imagine how much more damaging that message could have been if it had concerned troop movements, a delicate international political-relations issue, or the coordination and commitment of resources. Yet we see these types of things coordinated via standard email every day. If DMS were being used to promulgate official taskings and guidance, the event in the illustration couldn’t have occurred. The identity of the message’s originator could have been verified with a high level of assurance.


The key capabilities DMS provides over standard email are:

Identity confirmation of senders and receivers via digital signatures and certificates;
Confidentiality via encryption;
Assurance that the content hasn’t been modified;
An audit trail for message traceability;
Non-delivery notification for failed messages; and
Message store-and-forward functions to ensure messages aren’t lost.

Also, DMS provides an X.400-compliant directory information tree that allows any user to find the DMS address of any other user in the entire system. Even though DMS uses commercial technology, it uses that technology for cutting-edge applications that require a great deal of innovation in management and design. DIT is a good example. When fully populated, DMS’ DIT will represent one of the largest high-assurance, dynamic distributed databases in the world.

What will tactical DMS look like?

Actually, tactical DMS isn’t proper terminology. There is one global, seamless DMS, which each service will extend into the tactical environment. For the Army, it’s the DMS-A program. DMS-A consists of a backbone capability that ties together distributed tactical-operation centers’ local-area networks and tactical DMS users.

Defense Information Systems Agency provides DMS software as government-furnished software to the services’ tactical programs. The Army’s program manager for DMS is responsible for developing the tactical hardware platforms to host DMS software in the field. The user-agent software (for example, the DMS email-client software) will be integrated onto existing tactical-computer platforms connected to the tactical-packet network.

DMS user agents will be integrated onto the battlefield-functional-area computer systems such as all-source analysis system and maneuver-control system. Some DMS software modules will be integrated onto the TOC LAN servers.

The battlefield computer system’s program managers are responsible for integrating DMS user-agent software onto their respective computer platforms. There must be coordinated effort among PM DMS-A and other PMs to ensure proper software integration. PMs must understand that DMS is mandated within DoD and that they must develop a strategy to migrate from other email and messaging systems.

DMS-A will provide a backbone message-server capability to interconnect TOC LANs and to act as a gateway to joint deployed forces, legacy messaging systems, allies and sustaining bases. This capability will be in the form of the Tactical Message System until DMS-A server functions are fully integrated into the Warfighter Information Network-tactical. As a backbone capability, TMSs will mainly serve to interconnect subordinate TOC servers and will only service a minimal number of individual users.

Prototype TMSs have been in use at Fort Hood, Texas, in 3d Signal Brigade for more than two years. The 3d Signal Brigade’s soldiers pioneered TMS’ use and provided a host of valuable insights into the objective system’s design and development of tactics, techniques and procedures for its operation in the field.

PM DMS-A released the contract proposal at the end of January for TMS’ final configuration. In February the prototypes were replaced with two preproduction terminals. These terminals incorporate lessons-learned from the prototypes and include a fully functional equipment configuration.

Preproduction terminals were based on a sheltered design. This configuration included an operations shelter with SBU and secret DMS suites mounted on an extended-capability humvee with two generators and a support vehicle. This version of TMS will be augmented with a transit-case suite of equipment for the top-secret and sensitive-compartmented-information domain.

SBU and secret tactical message flow SBU and secret tactical-message flow.
Tactical Defense Message System TMS SBU and secret suites.

A series of events resulted in reconsideration of TMS’ final-configuration packaging. First was the brigade combat team’s development. BCT requirements are driving for lighter, more mobile equipment packages. Second, there’s a trend toward modular types of packages that can be tailored to mission needs. Third, there’s a need to begin fielding TS/SCI suites concurrently with SBU and secret suites.

Finally, because of the enormous overall cost of fielding the number of systems required, many units would fall below the funding line. Transit-case models have therefore been incorporated into the equation. Transit-case versions provide the same capabilities as the shelterized version, are more easily deployed and save the Army millions of dollars. They’re modular and scalable, and provide the tactical commander flexibility to configure the system based on mission requirements. By fielding all transit-case versions of TMS, the current PM DMS-A budget will cover the entire cost of fielding systems across the Army – unfinanced requirements won’t be required.

All these factors together required a relook of the configuration options. The final configuration resulted in a recent strategy to field all transit cases.

The transit-case solution includes commercial-off-the-shelf computer equipment in four or five transit cases. Each suite services a separate security domain: one for SBU, secret and TS/SCI respectively. Each suite is a complete modular unit and comes with a humvee, generator and standard integrated command-post shelter. One advantage to the transit-case solution is that it allows each security domain to be transported separately if air cargo space is limited. If necessary, the cases could even be sent ahead of their respective vehicles.

What manning is involved?

No more manning is involved with user agents within maneuver brigade/separate battalion TOCs. Soldiers operating those computers would handle their own messaging. DMS is writer-to-reader and does away with over-the-counter message service.

Each complete TMS suite requires two operators for 24-hour operations. A complete TMS section would include two sets of equipment for each security domain. In the standard template, one SBU suite and one secret suite would deploy with a node-center-switch section. The other SBU suite and secret suite would deploy with a second node center. TS/SCI suites would deploy with the military-intelligence brigade’s SCI facility.

Two sets of TMS equipment are to be fielded with each division and corps. The two sets comprise a TMS section, which is staffed with 12 74B operators and one 74B section chief. Echelons-above-corps units will get 30 TMS sets of equipment to replace the existing requirements for AN/TYC-39 message switches. Manning requirements for the TMS suites will be new to divisions that don’t currently have TYC-39 message switches. However, as TYC-39s are replaced and manpower is redistributed, there will actually be a net reduction in manpower requirements Army-wide.

When will DMS-A be fielded?

Integration of the user-agent software will be complete in the Army’s battle-command systems in software Version 6.1, which is scheduled for release in June. Four preproduction TMSs were to be hand-receipted to units in the second quarter of fiscal year 2000. The first low-rate-production terminals should be prepared for operational testing in first or second quarter FY01. Fielding will begin with 124th Signal Battalion, 4th Infantry Division and 3d Signal Brigade by the end of FY01. Fielding will be complete by late FY03.

If you’ve heard some discouraging things about the DMS program, take another look at the products currently available. Many people originally expected some very big things from the DMS program too soon in its development process. Many believed that since DMS used COTS technology, it should deliver better results sooner. Remember that DMS uses commercial technology in cutting-edge applications. The process is complicated, based on technology available today.

Today’s DMS isn’t the DMS of one or two years ago. Some very important strides were made in software Version 2.1. Version 2.2 should be released in the fall of 2000, with Version 3.0 following in February 2001.

DMS’ capabilities far exceed those of AUTODIN and will provide the tactical commander message service that can be molded to fit current operational needs.

CPT Canter is chief of the joint tactical-communications branch, combat-developments directorate, at the Signal Center. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in 1989 with a degree in engineering physics, he has worked with strategic and tactical satellite communications in Korea, Maryland and Okinawa. As an Acquisition Corps officer, he has had assignments with the Army’s testing and evaluation command, as well as with the power-projection division in the Signal Center’s combat-developments directorate.

Acronym QuickScan
AUTODIN – Automatic Digital Network
BCT – brigade combat team
COTS – commercial-off-the-shelf
DIT – directory information tree
DMS – Defense Message System
DMS-A – Defense Message System-Army
DoD – Department of Defense
FY – fiscal year
IA – information assurance
LAN – local-area network
PM – project manager
SBU – sensitive but unclassified
TMS – Tactical Message System
TS/SCI – top secret/sensitive compartmented information

dividing rule

Back issues on-line | "Most requested" articles | Article search | Subscriptions | Writer's guide

Army Communicator is part of Regimental Division, a division of Office Chief of Signal.

This is an offical U.S. Army Site |
This is an offical U.S. Army Site |