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The momentum of major improvements in national security telecommunications accelerated rapidly in the 1980s. Along with the unprecedented, peacetime military build-up under the Reagan Administration came the proliferation of government-owned and government-leased networks and a high emphasis on interoperability among the military services. The pace of technological advancement brought with it new opportunities for system improvements.

Even though the technology was rapidly changing, government and the private sector were still nearly a decade away from individual desktop computing, and the process military the used for messaging could be best described by DCA’s customers as the “tyranny of the communications center.” Users were still subjected to filling out forms for messages, taking the message to the Comm Center, and having a precedence assigned by someone else; who may or may not mark it with the priority desired by the customer. By the end the decade, there would be an explosion of personal computer use, eliminating the need for such a non-customer oriented and cumbersome messaging system.

The Defense Satellite Communications Systems III Satellites

DISA History PhotoThe first launch of DSCS III communications satellites took place October 1982. Since then the satellites have been the workhorses of military satellite communications. Serving as the backbone of the DoD’s global satellite communications, the DSCS III system provided nuclear-hardened, anti-jam, high-data-rate, long-haul communications to users worldwide. A total of 14 DSCS III satellites were launched between the early 1980s and 2003.

DISA History Photo
Lt. Gen. Lee M. Paschall,
DCA Director, July 1974 to July 1978
Vice Admiral Samuel L.Gravely,
DCA Director, Sept. 1978 to July 1980
LTG William J. Hilsman,
DCA Director, Sept. 1980 to Sept. 1983
Lt. Gen. Winston D. Powers,
DCA Director, Sept. 1983 to May 1987

DCA Supporting Communications Interoperability

The desire for interoperability in military communications did not originate in the 1980s. The need for communications systems that talked to each other within an individual military service and among the services together went back to the needs generated by the global proportions of WWII. Indeed, it was the lack of interoperability that drove the Eisenhower administration to seek one organization to pull together the services’ disparate systems to speak with one voice – that organization was DCA. But interoperability still had yet to be achieved by the 1980s. Changes to how the military used communications systems however were on the way.

In April 1986, the assistant secretary of defense for command and control, communications and intelligence proposed the consolidation of DCA and the Joint Tactical Command, Control, and Communications Agency (JTC3A) in view of the “climate within DoD of streamlining and reducing overhead functions.” The Joint Staff endorsed the proposal because it also provided some operational efficiency.

LTG Myers
LTG John T. Myers,
DCA Director, May 1987 to June 1990
In January 1987, the secretary of defense approved the consolidation of DCA and JTC3A. A year later, DCA absorbed the Tri-Service Tactical Communications Joint Test Element and JTC3A Joint Operability Test Facility. DCA consolidated these organizations into a new organization in 1989, establishing the Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) at Fort Huachuca, Ariz. JITC provided the facility for DoD and private-sector interoperability compliance testing and certification.

DCA tasked JITC to perform interoperability testing on various systems, including high-frequency radio systems, military satellite communications systems, and WWMCCS. JITC’s capabilities in this arena would grow in importance in the next decade with the greater demands for interoperability in wartime conditions and emergency contingencies.DISA History Photo

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, DCA’s top management team developed the overarching strategy and philosophy for moving DCA into the 21st century — Vision 21 — and adopted Total Quality Management as the process to achieve this vision. In October of 1989, the Deputy Secretary of Defense established a DoD Corporate Information Management (CIM) Initiative to identify and implement management efficiencies in DoD information systems. DCA was given responsibility for implementing the CIM initiative and its mission was expanded to include information support to the JCS and Office of the Secretary of Defense, tactical information system standards and interoperability and White House information systems.