DOD to Provide Command and Control for West Africa Ebola Mission

Health workers carry the body of a woman that they suspect died from the Ebola virus.

Health workers carry the body of a woman that they suspect died from the Ebola virus. Abbas Dulleh/AP

U.S. plans to spend $800 million to battle epidemic.

The Defense Department will deploy 3,000 troops to West Africa to provide command, control and logistics support for the U.S. response to the Ebola epidemic, which President Barack Obama said yesterday is “spiraling out of control.”

This support will cost DOD $500 million reprogrammed from fiscal 2014 oversees contingency funds and will be used for air transportation of supplies, construction of Ebola isolation units in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, personnel protective equipment, logistics and engineering support.

Funding for the Ebola operation to date is roughly $800 million, with the additional $300 million drawn from DOD, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services, according to a White House fact sheet.

The U.S. has already spent $100 million to help combat Ebola and protect health care workers in West Africa. The U.S. Agency for International Development plans to spend an additional $75 million for Ebola treatment units, to provide more personal protective equipment and to airlift additional medical and emergency supplies.

The White House said 100 personnel from HHS and the State Department have deployed to West Africa, and 65 commissioned officers from the Public Health Service will staff a hospital in Liberia to treat health care workers infected by Ebola.

The Ebola mission will be headed by Army Maj. Gen. Darryl Williams, commander of U.S. Army Africa, who arrived in Liberia yesterday, Obama said in a speech at CDC. Williams, an Iraq war veteran, will oversee operations in Liberia and an “air bridge” for supplies that DOD will set up in Senegal. His oversight will also include a military field hospital at a yet-to-be determined location in West Africa.

The U.S. faces serious but not insurmountable challenges in setting up communications to support the Liberia Ebola headquarters, consultants said, because of the damage to a thin infrastructure damaged by wars that ended in 2003.

Much of West Africa is served by the Africa Coast to Europe submarine cable run by a consortium led by French Telecom, which provides broadband service. An ACE spokesman told Nextgov the cable has capacity to support the U.S. mission in West Africa.

Bernie Skoch, a retired Air Force general with extensive experience in telecommunications, said he assumed the Pentagon will use satellite communications to support the Ebola mission as multiband terminals can be deployed quickly to Liberia. The satellite service will probably be provided by commercial carriers, as 80 percent of all DOD satellite communications are carried by commercial satellites, Skoch said.

Marlin Forbes, another consultant who previously served as senior vice president of Verizon Federal, said Liberia is served by only five satellites -- three C-band, which require large dishes, and two Ku-bands, which can operate with small dishes -- and cautioned that communications throughout Liberia is limited by cellular service that only touches major urban areas.

Skoch said he does not envision the Ebola mission requiring broadband circuits and said communications throughout the country can be handled by military radios, including high-frequency radios that can support wide area packet data.

The Pentagon has not yet responded to queries from Nextgov on what types of communications it will use for the Ebola operation as those details are still being worked out.