Walker spy case puts spotlight on military's `C3'
In the days of sail and cannon broadsides, communication in the US Navy meant sailors with signal flags. Today, it involves satellites, mile-long airborne antennas, and radio waves transmitted through rock. US submarines may soon receive messages via blue lasers shone on the sea.Skip to next paragraph
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The Walker spy case has focused new attention on United States military communications, command, and control, known as C3.
Navy officials say they will speed purchase of new equipment, because of secrets that may have been compromised. The Army and Air Force are trying to establish whether their communications are still secure.
But even before the Walker disclosures, communications was perhaps the fastest growing part of the US military budget. Spending on communications has jumped from $7.7 billion in 1980 to $18.8 billion for 1985. This will go for everything from jam-resistant satellites for controlling nuclear forces to fancy radios that will enable the services to better share information on the battlefield.
Military commanders have long recognized that reliable communications links are in many ways as important as firepower. The history of warfare is replete with blunders caused because messages were garbled or lost.
In August 1914, Kaiser Wilhelm at the last moment tried to stop the first move of German troops into Belgium. His telephone message did not get through -- and World War I began.
Much of the current emphasis on improving Pentagon communications involves control of nuclear-armed missiles, bombers, and submarines. In recent years a number of analysts have concluded that such strategic communications is the Achilles' heel of the US military, liable to disruption by a relative handful of Soviet warheads.
Early-warning radars, for instance, might be vulnerable to sabatoge or submarine attack.
Gophers apparently like to chew on the lead in cables connecting missile silos to launch centers.
``The state of US [communications] casts fundamental doubt on the ability of the United States to respond at all to Soviet nuclear attack,'' concludes Bruce Blair, a former Minuteman launch officer, in his new book, ``Strategic Command and Control.''
Early on, the Reagan administration made strategic communications one of its top defense priorities.
Among the improvements now being funded:
MILSTAR, a jam-resistant satellite system to link US officials with nuclear forces. Currently in the design stage, MILSTAR is the first communications system to be named a ``Brickbat'' top-priority program.
GWEN, a series of ground-based antennas that will use radio frequencies just off the AM dial to relay messages to bombers and missiles. A 10-antenna test system is scheduled for completion in 1985.
Blue-light lasers, beamed from space, to communicate with subs at sea. This futuristic technology is proceeding faster than expected, says a Pentagon spokesman, and will be tested under realistic conditions this year.
Talking to subs is particularly difficult, because seawater blocks most radio waves.
Currently, the Navy plans to communicate with subs in a crisis via 5,000-foot antennas towed behind planes, and charged with very low frequencey signals. These antennas, however, tend to fall off, says Daniel Ford, author of another recent book on strategic communications.