Imagine a 9.0-magnitude undersea megathrust earthquake, one of the five largest ever recorded, followed by a 128-foot tsunami that traveled up to six miles inland, followed by a level 7 nuclear accident, in one 24-hour period. On March 11, 2011, that is precisely what happened on the northern shore of Japan's Honshu Island, leaving an estimated 4.4 million people without electricity and 1.4 million without water.
In response, U.S. forces in the Pacific immediately began to organize. U.S. Pacific Command activated elements of Joint Task Force (JTF) 519 to augment staff from U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ) forming the Joint Support Force (JSF) headquarters at Yokota Air Base, located west of Tokyo, and 175 miles south of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Within hours of the event, PACOM ordered the launch of Operation Tomodachi to provide humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR), foreign consequence management (FCM), and military assistance with the voluntary authorized departure of U.S. military family members in the affected area.
Navy information professionals from across the Pacific answered the call, including IPs from U.S. Pacific Fleet, 7th Fleet, Task Force 76, Task Force 70, Naval Forces Japan, and Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station Far East, by forming a core team that led the way in providing assistance to Japan.
The sheer magnitude and scope of the crisis brought together a host of challenges not typically seen in operations U.S. forces responded to in the past. The joint force was faced with unique communications challenges from the start, specifically in transmission, communications control, information management, interoperability and joint and bilateral information sharing.
Major portions of the Global Information Grid were disrupted due to damage from the earthquake. Defense Information Systems Agency Pacific, along with DISA Japan Field Office, rapidly identified and reported damage and did an absolutely incredible job of restoring critical bandwidth in record time. Within two days, DISA restored most of the terrestrial connectivity via alternate routing, contracting new services, and repairing fiber-optic cables. Without this core infrastructure, the operation would have never gotten off the ground.
U.S. Forces Japan headquarters, at Yokota Air Base, became the nucleus for U.S. operations. Prior to the disasters, USFJ had a staff of 180 personnel, but within days personnel began to converge to support operations, including military and civilian personnel from every service; personnel from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)/U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance; Nuclear Regulatory Commission; USAID's Disaster Assistance Response Team; Department of Energy; and various other government and non-governmental organizations.
Within two weeks of the disasters, nearly 800 personnel were working from USFJ headquarters. The rapid growth created numerous network infrastructure challenges. The first few days after the disaster were spent transitioning more than 300 SIPRNET and Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System-Japan (CENTRIXS-JPN) clients to the unclassified NIPRNET; expanding the infrastructure to accommodate an increase in users; setting up hundreds of accounts; and working out office space requirements. U.S. Forces Japan J6's command, control, communications and computer (C4) systems branch added more than 500 workstations to its NIPRNET domain in less than two weeks.
Despite massive and swift growth, USFJ maintained a forward-leaning information assurance posture by using operational risk management and daily resource requirement board meetings to assess the IT needs of the command and the most prudent method of satisfying the requirements. The key to the speed of this activity is that USFJ’s J6 is the Designated Accrediting Authority (DAA) for USFJ network domains (NIPRNET, SIPRNET and CENTRIXS-JPN), allowing short-cycle time from request to approval and implementation. Had the DAA been at a higher echelon, or if the USFJ network were part of a larger enterprise-wide managed network, rapid growth and responsiveness would simply not have been possible.
Additionally, Joint Support Force headquarters was manned with personnel from all the services, which was essential for the rapid growth of communication capabilities for USFJ headquarters, to support air, land and maritime operations. For example, CTF 76 and III Marine Expeditionary Force provided manpower and network equipment to supplement resource shortfalls at USFJ.
Need for Assured Access
With an uncertain capacity for the USFJ headquarters infrastructure to accommodate additional personnel and the possibility for rolling blackouts, PACOM’s Deployable Joint Command and Control core, based out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was requested. Within 96 hours, DJC2 core equipment and the Joint Communications Support Element (JCSE) team were loaded on two C-17 Globemasters and on the way to Yokota Air Base.
Within 72 hours of arrival, the DJC2 had reached initial operating capability with 56 seats providing NIPRNET, SIPRNET, CENTRIXS-JPN, Voice over Internet Protocol, and secure telephones using commercial and military satellite communications.
The deployment proved to be an opportunity for USFJ’s J6 staff and the JCSE team to engineer new solutions to meet the changing operational landscape.
While the principal purpose of a DJC2 core is to provide a JTF commander with a self-sufficient command and control center, solutions were developed to provide data transport via terrestrial fiber which enabled an extension of the USFJ headquarters network domain. The right people were present to develop these remedies in the field; however, events highlighted the need for pre-engineered modularity and flexibility for joint communications packages.
One of the most significant challenges of Operation Tomodachi was the need to rapidly share critical information. While DoD personnel are accustomed to using the SIPRNET, HA/DR operations are typically conducted via unclassified networks which allow access to everyone involved in the relief efforts. Since much of the information produced for Operation Tomodachi was designated “For Official Use Only,” access required additional controls.
Because most of our partner organizations are not within DoD, they do not have Common Access Cards, or alternate tokens, so a non-CAC-enabled method of sharing was developed.
Within hours of the disasters, PACOM established the “Japan Earthquake 2011” site on the All Partners Access Network. APAN (www.apan.org/) is a PACOM-owned and operated, unclassified network in the public domain that was used in previous PACOM theater HA/DR international operations. APAN is designed to foster collaboration between DoD, U.S. government agencies and NGOs.
For Operation Tomodachi, PACOM created an unlisted, non-advertised APAN group — known as the Virtual Civil Military Operations Center (VCMOC) — accessible only by invitation. Approval was obtained from JSF to post certain controlled, unclassified information to the group, providing a secure path for unclassified information exchange.
In the first two weeks, membership in the VCMOC group grew to more than 500. One of the keys to success was that PACOM flew four of the world’s premier APAN experts to JSF headquarters to support local efforts. Their ability to customize a website to support user requirements is remarkable and was critical to sharing information. Though using APAN was a success in many ways, APAN was not the single, authoritative unclassified network in the public domain used for collaboration between government agencies and NGOs.
HARMONIEWeb, which is similar to APAN, was also used and preferred by some groups because they were more familiar with HARMONIEWeb features. Because it took valuable time to establish APAN access to the VCMOC, some groups were reluctant to switch to APAN.
HARMONIEWeb (www.harmonieweb.org) is a portal site built for government agencies and NGOs to work together in a collaborative environment to achieve common goals in the areas of HA/DR and stability and reconstruction efforts. Users can request portal sites to meet the collaborative needs of a given situation.
Once the site is created, users build the sites, manage access, provide content, and designate their own administrators. HARMONIEWeb is funded by U.S. Joint Forces Command. To more efficiently manage operations, whether it is APAN, HARMONIEWeb, or some other unclassified network, we recommend that only one network be used to keep information centralized and up-to-date.
At the time of the disasters, USFJ’s information management/knowledge management plan was a draft concept that had not been exercised. With hundreds of staff members coming from different services and locations, the need for a comprehensive IM/KM plan became apparent very quickly. But differences in what the IM/KM vision should look like became evident, and with the help of numerous communication experts from every branch of the services, information management standard operating procedures (IMSOP) were developed and approved.
The IMSOP provided clear guidance on how the JSF staff and components should share specific operational products, designated which collaborative tools should be used, and articulated how to post and share information. The end result was a shift from more than 12 varied and often redundant mediums to four common tools, greatly reducing effort and enhancing knowledge transfer.
One issue was how to include users with low bandwidth. Ship personnel had challenges with downloading briefs and accessing Defense Connect Online (https://ww.dco.dod.mil) conferences that were mandated in the IMSOP. To work around this challenge, video teleconferencing, a primary information sharing tool for this operation, was used. However, we found no perfect solution for connecting low-bandwidth users.
Another challenge involved how to share and classify sensitive information. This took considerable time at the beginning of the operation because boundaries were not clearly defined. In some instances, U.S.-derived information was determined by the United States to be unclassified and FOUO, while the Japanese government determined the same information should be handled more cautiously, for example, information pertaining to radiation levels within Japan, due to the potential for unnecessarily alarming Japanese citizens.
Sharing and disseminating information of this nature required careful and continuous communication and coordination at all levels. A lesson learned is that clear procedures for foreign disclosure, information sharing and posting guidelines should be established early.
Continuity of Operations
From the moment the disasters struck, a continuity of operations plan (COOP) was in development to ensure operations would not be interrupted if the crisis were to escalate. With an estimated 400 aftershocks following the earthquake this was a very real possibility. Just as the aftershocks subsided, the uncertainty regarding the stability of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors increased, and the possibility of radioactive contamination spreading through air, water, soil, and even food, became a significant factor in planning. COOP development typically considers short- and long-term relocation of personnel to ensure execution of the command’s primary mission.
However, a standard COOP would not account for the extraordinary threats facing the Joint Support Force. With three major lines of operations, HA/DR, FCM, and the voluntary authorized departure for military family members, ensuring C2 capability was critical. Add in the fact that all the U.S. military bases around Tokyo were potentially at risk, including many critical C4I nodes, and you have a serious situation that required significant thought.
The DJC2 core, while initially envisioned as an asset to expand headquarters capacity, rapidly became the cornerstone for Joint Support Force’s COOP planning. It was the only self-sustaining, scalable and mobile command center readily available that could support such an operation.
A complicating factor in COOP development was the unpredictable nature of radiological exposure. Planning was required for sheltering-in-place, potentially combined with execution of a COOP.
Shelter-in-place is a process for taking immediate shelter in a location readily accessible to affected individuals in an emergency by sealing a single area, for example, a room, from outside contaminants and shutting off all heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems.
These actions would generally be taken after a chemical accident, civil emergency or terrorist attack. Few, if any, shore facilities plan how to continue extended operations with ventilation completely secured. Accurate communications estimates of supportability were only possible because of heat surveys which were conducted prior to the disasters.
Common Operational Picture
The ability to see the location of U.S. and bilateral forces was critical for both nations. Prior to the disasters, USFJ’s common operational picture focused primarily on integrated air and missile defense. Further, USFJ lacked sufficient manning and capabilities to properly manage and maintain the robust and persistent COP capabilities that were required.
The formation of JSF brought together the necessary skills and capabilities for an effective operational COP specific for Operation Tomodachi, including operations specialists (COP fusion managers), information systems technicians (Global Command and Control System administrators), and a fleet systems engineering team who brought the COP to life.
One of the challenges with the COP was trying to meet the demands of different commanders. Each service is accustomed to tracking different components on a COP. For example, a joint force air component commander needs to see air tracks by air tasking order line item, and a joint force land component commander needs to see ground tracks and terrain features.
COP technicians developed a picture by manipulating aircraft Identification Friend or Foe settings to discretely identify aircraft. Friendly Force Trackers were obtained and registered to show the movement of critical ground-based units. The key to success was working with each component commander’s operations staff to clearly define what they needed the picture to look like.
Since the main effort of the operation was to support our bilateral partner, U.S. and Japanese planners needed to see the same COP and have a mechanism for transferring data from U.S.-only systems to Japanese compatible systems. This requirement highlighted the criticality of cross-domain solutions, such as the Radiant Mercury system, to move data from SIPRNET to CENTRIXS-JPN.
Outside the Box
COP capability was taken to a new level by working with Google to develop imagery to support the operation. More than 300 highly skilled Web developers from Google headquarters in Tokyo volunteered to help by setting up a site (www.google.com/crisisresponse/japanquake2011.html) that provided a means to identify and locate missing persons. The site included maps and shelter locations, decontamination sites, news, updates on transportation routes and schedules, as well as a way to collect donations.
The imagery tools are nothing short of amazing. The ability to zoom in to before and after photos of a specific area was very helpful in JSF’s planning efforts (www.sigacts.com/sendai/). More than 1,000 people volunteered to transcribe the names of missing persons into a people finder website. We highly recommend that this type of coordination be done early in HA/DR operations.
A team from J6, with assistance from Google programmers, added Google Earth to the bilateral COP further enhancing operational capability. When the J6 team visited Google headquarters many people from the disaster-affected areas expressed appreciation to the team for their efforts, with some at the point of tears. The team got the picture very quickly that everyone was working toward the same goal.
In spite of the significant challenges posed by the multiple disasters, Navy Information Professional officers and joint communicators, working together as a team, successfully supported the bilateral command and control of several extraordinarily complex lines of operation. The success of this effort and the lessons learned will continue to pay dividends in the future.
For the most part, Operation Tomodachi and the corresponding communication support have come to an end. However, the Japanese government, for the foreseeable future, will continue to manage the instability of the nuclear reactors and radioactivity levels, and will direct recovery efforts.
The United States will continue to assist Japan as requested by the Japanese government. The IP community, as an integral part of the U.S. forces here in Japan, will provide communication support.
Capt. Craig Goodman is the J6 at U.S. Forces Japan.
Capt. Carlene Wilson is the deputy J6 at Commander U.S. Pacific Fleet and the J6 for JTF 519.
Cmdr. Jeffrey Buss is the assistant chief of staff for C4I/N6 Expeditionary Strike Group 7/Commander, Task Force 76.
Lt. Ryan Tashma is a communications planner on the staff of U.S. Pacific Fleet.