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Britain's military techies honoured with new combat IT awards

The same job as you do - but with people shooting at them

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Strap a satellite to that Land Rover!

He describes their communications as being pretty much like a Sky News or BBC News van with a satellite on top that can beam back to Britain, except they were doing it with sats strapped to Land Rovers in the 90s.

"You'd have one Land Rover with satellite comms kit, another Rover with all your tent stuff, sleeping equipment, cooking equipment and another one that would have the hard flight cases, which would maybe have 30 laptops, a router, the switch and say a backup server or a couple of servers.

"We would take that out and set that up within 48 hours," he said.

Once comms were set up, any of the staff, whether it was disaster specialists or soldiers, could connect to base, though there's no BYOD in the army.

"Can you imagine?" Samuel asked incredulously, speaking of the new trend for using your own device. "I couldn't imagine somebody bringing their iPhone and plugging it into our secret system, it wouldn't belong to them any longer if they did, I would confiscate it!"

But he didn't totally rule it out as a possibility for the future.

"If that's something that the Ministry of Defence goes for in a number of year s… I'm not sure. It would be an accreditation issue that CESG [the Communications-Electronics Security Group] people would have to deal with."

Back in the 90s it was all chunky satellite phones, although these days it's slimmer handheld sat phones that are encrypted to provide secure voice comms up to secret level.

In networking, the army is still using LAN and WAN technologies, but there's a lot of virtualisation going on these days as well.

"We'll provide a virtualisation platform that allows us to decrease our footprint so you start taking off air conditioning, power, hard drive space. We also get the ability to work many more applications," Samuel said.

The number of applications a Ministry of Defence operation has to run compared to the banking sector, where the networks are running just security, financial software and business management and process software, is huge.

"[It's] actually having to support anywhere in excess of 140 apps, anything from planning for tides and currents for naval exercises through to air control for operations, through to logistics through to databases, HR for everybody that's coming in and out of the theatre of operations, security suites, network performance monitoring suites, the list is just endless," he said.

Google Earth operations

And it's here that one of the Royal Signals award winners has made his mark, with a system to mirror all the data in an operation to all locations using Google Earth.

Corporal Hempstock, who came up with the idea while on assignment in Afghanistan, said that there were many different tools to get information, but no one single tool to do everything.

"The main thing I did was - I don't claim to have invented Google Earth - I brought everyone together, I created a way of people copying files on the network at one location and that would cascade out to loads of different locations," he said. "This was one picture."

The programme basically overlaid all the data that the military was gathering onto an enclosed, secure version of Google Earth so that the information was there at a glance.

One way it can be used is by soldiers going out on patrol. If the patrol takes a helmet cam and smartphone with them, which is connected not to a commercial mobile network but to a femtocell back at their base, they can gather the information on any incident they're involved in which can then pop up on the overlay on Google Earth.

"Then the next time a patrol goes out, it can build up a picture of what's happening on the ground," Samuel explained. "That could be showing IEDs, contact with enemy fire and insurgents.

"Or actually it could be a normal meet and greet with local leaders, building intelligence on who lives in what area, where your friendly forces are, even that's where a farmer's field is or that's a culturally sensitive area.

"We can build up a much bigger intelligence picture so that we can win the hearts and minds battle instead of just bulldozing through it, which never works," he added.

This sort of potential is what won Corporal Hempstock the new annual award for operational military signalling. Sergeant Froggett won his award for his role as an instructor in the latest Microsoft software, Cisco network infrastructure and IP radio technology, training young Signals soldiers for operations in Afghanistan.

Details on the unnamed Special Forces tech-aoldier's achievements were undisclosed. ®

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