MARS Adopts Winlink
- Army MARS Implementing Winlink 2000 with Airmail Network
NEWINGTON, CT, Mar 2, 2006--After a thorough study of security and
connectivity issues, the Army Military Affiliate Radio System
(<http://www.netcom.army.mil/mars/>MARS) has launched the final phase
of implementing <http://www.winlink.org/>Winlink 2000 with
a system-wide communication tool. A global MARS-Winlink 2000 network
is expected to be in service by this summer. Winlink 2000 Network
Administrator Steve Waterman, K4CJX/AAR4WU, a member of the Winlink
Development Team, is the MARS team leader.
"Army MARS identified a real need to provide digital messaging to
complement the existing voice and digital systems," said Waterman,
who also served on the ARRL Ad Hoc Committee on Amateur Radio
Communications. "It becomes a critical need as the demand for more
and more capacity approaches, and there's a tremendous amount of
interoperability built in."
In announcing the network, MARS Eastern Area Coordinator Grant Hays,
WB6OTS/AAA9E, said Winlink 2000 will provide rapid and reliable
interconnection among government entities served by MARS and the
broad range of local and regional agencies accessed by Amateur Radio
generally. "Winlink 2000 has the capability to automatically
establish alternative communication routes utilizing its large number
of participating Amateur Radio stations," MARS said in its news
release announcing the network.
Waterman said the amount of redundancy built into the system is
really substantial. "Among other things, where appropriate, Internet
accessibility will take the load off the limited number of
frequencies available for the MARS service," he observed.
For seven years, Winlink 2000 has supported emergency communication
worldwide. During the catastrophic 2005 hurricane season, Amateur
Radio operators provided indispensable communication backup when
conventional telecommunication systems failed. In the wake of the
earthquake and tsunamis that hit South Asia in late 2004, Amateur
Radio operators with Winlink 2000 capability--many of them
maritime--found Winlink 2000 to be especially helpful for handling
Amateur Radio organizations already embracing the technology include
ARES, the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service
(<http://www.races.net/>RACES)--a FEMA auxiliary--and many civil
agencies. In past emergencies, these organizations have informally
linked with MARS through members whose stations participate in
With the addition of Winlink 2000 with Airmail, Hays said, the
different networks will continue to operate separately and
independently, and the new software will automatically move messages
among them as needed. "It will also switch traffic to the Internet
where available and appropriate to bridge any radio gaps or to
deliver addressed e-mail," he said.
Mainly for use with HF PACTOR, Airmail is a messaging program
specifically designed for connection to an HF radio Winlink 2000
participating station. The Airmail screen is very similar in
appearance to the Microsoft Outlook e-mail client.
Army MARS has long operated its own MARS Message Center System
(MMCS), which uses HF radio to deliver messages throughout the US and
to overseas military installations. "Before the advent of e-mail,
keeping servicemen and their families and friends in touch was a
major function," said the Army MARS release. "Disaster readiness has
overtaken that function in the last decade and continues to expand."
Hays says the Winlink 2000 with Airmail network augmentation is one
of two innovative technology projects currently under way in Army
MARS. In conjunction with Air Force and Navy-Marine Corps MARS,
members are also testing an advanced Automatic Link Establishment
(ALE) implementation. "This is the HF radio technology already widely
used by military units and government agencies for moving traffic in
large volume," he explains, noting that MARS volunteers developed the
software. "Winlink 2000 and ALE can work in tandem to speed delivery
of messages," Hays said.
Since MARS members operate on military frequencies, only MARS members
will be able to directly access the MARS Winlink 2000 system, Hays
said. Messages to and from the amateur participants outside MARS
would be interchanged automatically at designated Participating
Mailbox Operation (PMBO) stations.
"While only designated members are authorized to use ALE, all MARS
members may use the Winlink 2000 system after registering their call
signs and passwords at one of the MARS participating stations," Hays
explained. "Four Winlink 2000 participating stations were fully
operational for the start of system testing. Others will be added as needed."
Early versions of Winlink and its predecessor Aplink have a long
history in MARS going back to the early 1980s. Communication security
concerns delayed adoption of the advanced Winlink 2000 facility until
recently when it was further investigated and understood, Hays recounted.
More recently, the Winlink Development Team and its participating
station system operators have also been active with the ARRL in
providing a national emergency digital network system for the Amateur Service.
Working with Waterman on the MARS-Winlink 2000 project are Paul
Drothler, WO4U/AAA4TN, Laurence Collins, K7DMB/AAA9NV, Don Nutt,
N6TDM/AAR7JG, and John Scoggin, W3JKS/AAA9AC. Scoggin is the MARS
National Automation Coordinator. Drothler and Collins are state MARS
Directors and Nutt is a National Coordinator for SHARES, the Shared
HF Resources network linking federal agencies including MARS. All are
A radio amateur since 1955, Waterman joined the original Winlink
Development Team in 1986. In 1998 he participated in the decision to
wrap store-and-forward e-mail connectivity into early Winlink
versions. Other members of that group were Victor Poor, W5SMM, the
team leader and the person who conceived Aplink and Winlink; Rick
Muething, KN6KB, Hans Kessler, N8PGR, Ed Galipeau, WA1LRL, Lee Inman,
K0QED, and Tom Lafleur, KA6IQA. They also assisted in the MARS project.
Army MARS has some 2500 Amateur Radio operators specially trained and
licensed for military communication. The Air Force and Navy-Marine
Corps field similar volunteer teams. Their shared mission is
providing emergency communication to the US Department of Defense and
other government departments and agencies.