436th CS Upgrades NIPRNet

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- Members of the 436th Communications Squadron are currently upgrading the Non-Secure Internet Protocol Router Network infrastructure here.

A team of 10 Airmen and two contractors began replacing network switches in late December, as part of an Air-Mobility-Command-funded directive to upgrade network standards across the command, said Master Sgt. John Eckert, 436th Communications Squadron NCO in charge of plans and implementations. The task involves replacing approximately 400 network switches in more than 140 installation buildings and is expected to cost nearly $8.4 million by completion slated for early March.

Eckert said the upgrade will realign the installation’s network with Air Force standards and replace the current, aging equipment which have been the cause of frequent installation network outages of late.

“Our switches were constantly failing due to their age,” Eckert said. “We were constantly replacing them, sometimes on a weekly basis. Our users should see much better reliability with our new equipment.”

To further improve network reliability, the squadron plans to install a network management server, which will improve its ability to detect outages.

Tech. Sgt. Jacob Bixler, 167th Airlift Wing cyber transport craftsman, received temporary orders to assist the 436th CS personnel with their upgrades. He recently assisted with a similar upgrade at his home station, Shepherd Field Air National Guard Base, West Virginia.

“We’ll be able to see the entire installation and hopefully be more proactive with outages,” Bixler said of the network management server. “If a building goes down, we can see it and respond immediately, so ideally our customers will suffer less down time.”

To date, the team has already refit 60 buildings, Eckert said. Prior to installation, the team must coordinate with the building custodians and commanders to plan the best time to conduct the maintenance.

Unfortunately, replacing the switches requires loss of network for all the users serviced by the switch, Bixler said. The team works rapidly to make sure users are reconnected as quickly as possible.

Making the most of their time, they also perform cable maintenance, ensuring functionality, and remove tangled and bundled wires to improve efficiency in future troubleshooting.

“After this is finished, we’ll be able to manage the network much more efficiently, because we’ll have more control of the assets,” Bixler said. “We’ll be able to fully implement the security measures required, and we’ll be able to get replacement parts and support much more quickly than we could before. This is going to be great for the base.”

The new network is fully supported by the Air Force with a 24/7 call center. Any issues can be accessed and replacement parts can be sent immediately, a vast improvement over the antiquated system still supporting approximately half of the installation’s network. With the old system, replacing parts or getting technical support was a much more complex process.

Another added benefit is the new system is the same is what is taught in tech school.

“When I first got here, I had to learn a completely different system to what I learned at tech school,” said Airman 1st Class Joseph Toombs, 436th CS cyber transport apprentice. “It’s going to be a lot better knowing about the system you will be working on before you get to your base. Then, when you get there, you can start to become a master instead of learning it from scratch.”

After the NIPRNet infrastructure is replaced, the squadron intends to upgrade the installation’s Secret Internet Protocol Router Network.

“Thank you for your patience with all the down times that have happened,” Bixler said. “You might not see anything immediately different with your network, but it’s going to be a whole new world for us at Comm. We can hopefully make this even better in the future.”