Innovation Overcomes Communication Hurdle

  • Published
  • By Technical Sergeant Aaron Thomasson
  • 501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs
It's New Year's Eve, 9 p.m., and Air Force Staff Sgt. Dorian Brooks is on standby duty for the Radio Maintenance work center on RAF Croughton. He receives a phone call directing him to report back to work, as a critical communications system has lost functionality.

The High Frequency Global Communications System is used to communicate across the globe with military units including Navy ships, Air Force aircraft, and ground stations. It is capable of maintaining strategic communications links via beyond line-of-sight broadcasting, and supplements the American armed forces' network of communications satellites.  If the system at RAF Croughton goes dark, that increases demand on other sites around the world.

Sergeant Brooks and his team, Airman First Class Nicholas Santiago and Airman First Class Logan Amos, worked tirelessly to identify the source of the problem. They were regularly called in to multiple, geographically separated locations to conduct manual resets of equipment. Over time, the equipment malfunctions and manual resets became more frequent, resulting in the team having to maintain a 24-hour presence to minimize the disruptions.

Loss of connection persisted and we had to dig in and find out what was going on,” said Brooks as he described the problem facing the Radio Maintenance team. “We reached out to the contractors to understand what was going on, and they had never seen the problem before.

Radio Maintenance gathered fault logs and conducted troubleshooting before they were able to accurately recreate the equipment fault in a test environment. Using this dataset, and working together with troubleshooters from the manufacturer, they had narrowed the problem to a set of routers that were enacting a security protocol in error. This caused the routers to stop transmitting or receiving data, and because the routers were not designed to automatically recover from this state, they required a manual restart every time the error occurred.

With the problem and its cause identified, the manufacturer provided the Radio Maintenance team with a test programming solution. After finding that it solved the problem in a mock-up system, the team applied it to their portion of the HFGCS network. They were thrilled to see that the fix worked, and it was quickly rolled out to other HFGCS locations.

"12 other sites were updated because of this vulnerability being identified, solved, and then implemented across the whole network,” said Sergeant Brooks. “This makes the entire HFGCS enterprise more reliable and much more resilient."

Now, the HFGCS system hums along smoothly, transmitting data across the world, and the Radio Maintenance team has put a stop to what was formerly over a thousand hours of downtime every month across the network.

A1C Santiago expressed his feelings about being involved in the maintenance process with a smile.

“It’s pretty cool having such an impact on a system that impacts the world," he said. "I had to jump into the problem fast, and it showed me that as long as you are knowledgeable on what’s going on, you can be a part of something that affects the whole military."