RIPRnet continues to evolve

  • Published
  • By Capt. Uriah Orland
  • U.S. Central Command Air Forces Public Affairs
Two years after its standup, RIPRnet has a very different mission and much greater reach than originally planned.

Radio-over-Internet Protocol Routed network is a key communications network for both ground convoys and air operations throughout Iraq, consisting of 15 core sites and 37 ground station consoles.

"In September of 2007, we finished the initial phase of an extended network of towers and ground stations to cover the ground convoy communications network," said Col. Ian Dickinson, U.S. Central Command Air Forces director, Command, Control, Communications and Computer Systems.

With the initial network complete, Coalition forces in Iraq have a wide range of capabilities that were non-existent in 2005. 

The command and control capability of RIPRnet allows the Combined Air and Space Operations Center, southeast of Iraq, to communicate directly with airborne aircraft as part of the Air Defense of Iraq. This link was the initial catalyst for standing up RIPRnet.

In December 2005, Iraq was on the eve of democratic elections and senior leaders of the U.S. Central Command Air Forces feared the possibility of civilian airliners being used as weapons, similar to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The operational decision-makers at the CAOC needed the ability to directly communicate with air defense aircraft and hear an intercepting pilot's first-hand observations. They needed to shorten the decision cycle from minutes to seconds to enable them to make an accurate "shoot or no-shoot" decision from the center, more than 700 miles away.

The communication capability and proven efficiency was quickly adapted for close air support coordination and command and control. Real-time communications between the Air Support Operations Center in Baghdad, Coalition aircraft conducting armed overwatch missions and Joint Terminal Attack Controllers on the ground became the next application. 

With traditional, line-of-sight radio networks, overwatch aircraft had to remain in the vicinity of the ASOC communications to receive mission tasks before they could move forward to execute operations requested by JTACs and ground commanders. 

Once the aircraft completed the tasking, they had to return to their orbit near Baghdad. RIPRnet extends the ASOC network, enabling ASOC controllers to move the aircraft orbit areas away from Baghdad and closer to the missions on the ground, reducing response times and ensuring the best support for forces in contact with enemy forces.

Although the thrust of setting up RIPRnet was improved communications for air operations, the network now includes critical communications capabilities extending radio connectivity for ground forces.

"It has been applied to both air and ground missions," Colonel Dickinson said. "It is an example of a joint service partnership on how to apply technology to conduct military operations in Southwest Asia."

This application provided additional capability and improved the range for the command and control capabilities of convoys traveling through much of Iraq.
"We laid out a program to cover the lion's share of our convoy routes and did that with the people who are working here in the operational theater. This was completely done with deployed forces," he said.

Convoys rely on line-of-site radio for most of their connectivity. Before RIPRNet, there were a number of relay points, positioned about every 15 to 20 miles along the main supply routes. Many of these radio relay points were "outside the wire" and posed additional force protection concerns for units operating along the supply routes. 

Additionally, there were points along the routes where convoy vehicles were out of radio range. This limited communications capability left convoys out of range for Medevac and close air support should they be attacked or hit an Improvised Explosive Device.

To overcome this and extend the relay points, the Air Force flew E-8C Joint STARS and later C-130 Hercules to relay radio traffic between convoy commanders and check points. The completion of the construction of RIPRnet towers reduced the need for these airborne assets.

"By putting in the RIPRnet we were able to get the J-STARS rolled back into its combat role," the colonel said.

Although, the network was initially headed by the Air Force, RIPRnet is not an air capability.

"RIPRnet is a jointly created and installed, jointly used, and jointly managed and operated network," Colonel Dickinson said. "It took a lot of teamwork from Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force personnel to make it a common user network, for radio communications supporting air and ground operations."

Today, the network supports convoy, the quick response force called the sheriff net, the ASOC and Air Defense of Iraq, providing extended connectivity to Coalition forces operating in key areas of Iraq. 

The effort to provide the best communications for all deployed Airmen, Marines, Sailors and Soldiers will never be complete. All services will continue to work on new systems and capabilities, to include potential expansion of RIPRnet capabilities in an effort to both improve mission performance and save lives.