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Exclusive: AFRICOM Plans High-Speed Circuits to Liberia

Health workers carry the body of a old man from his house as he is suspected of dying from the Ebola virus in the Siah Town area on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia.

Health workers carry the body of a old man from his house as he is suspected of dying from the Ebola virus in the Siah Town area on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia. // Abbas Dulleh/AP

The U.S. military plans to lease a 622 megabit terrestrial circuit from Europe to Liberia in a matter of weeks to support Internet service for U.S. troops as they continue to deploy to Liberia to help counter the Ebola virus, U.S. Africa Command’s top communications official told Nextgov.

“Right now, we have satellite links ranging from 4 to 12 megabits,” said Army Col. Patrick Dedham, director for command, control, and communications based in Stuttgart, Germany.  

As the network matures, data rates will increase, he said.

In a related development, the Defense Information Systems Agency has launched a sensitive procurement for a 622 megabit circuit from Germany to Dakar and a 45 megabit circuit from Germany to Liberia.

Dedham said these may seem large pipes for an operation in such an austere environment as West Africa, but they are the norm for what he described as “reach-back operations,” in which deployed units tap into computing power and applications.

The Army’s Warrior Information-Tactical battlefield network – or WIN-T network – can handle Internet traffic, but will not be turned on for a couple of weeks in Africa, Dedham said.

Lt. Col. Joel Babbitt, the WIN-T product manager, said nongovernmental organizations such as Doctors without Borders will be able to tap into military networks if they are co-located with the Army and have a Wi-Fi hot spot.

Dedham emphasized the primary purpose of the AFRICOM networks is to support military users, not NGOs.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronnie D. Hawkins Jr, DISA’s director, considers support for the West Africa Ebola mission a key priority, said Alfred Rivera, acting director of DISA's strategic planning and information, at a media round table Wednesday.

To date, Rivera said, DISA has primarily acquired satellite circuits to serve West Africa. 

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