January 18, 2006:
The United States has the best military communications system on the planet, and American troops don't realize that until they work with a less well equipped force. This is what happened in Afghanistan, with the new Afghan army and their motley collection of communications gear. But there are often inexpensive solutions, and this was the case with the Afghan military and their mix of VHF and HF radios, and cell and landline phones, to communicate each other. A variation of a commercial product, ACU-T (Advanced Control Unit-Tactical) allows you to set it up so the different forms of communication can talk to each other automatically. Each ACU-T costs about $4,000 (plus about twice that for one master system), and 13 of them are all that are needed to cover all of Afghanistan (which no single form of communication there can). Afghan troops were easily trained to operate the ACU-T systems (which need to be configured to handle the different signals coming in, and going out). One of the more subtle benefits of ACU-T is that it enables officers to work more frequently with others in distant parts of the country. Afghanistan is a big place, with dozens of tribes and four major ethnic groups. Distance is also a major separator, and ACU-T enables a little more togetherness, which reduces the separateness somewhat.