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Cormorant

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CORMORANT

What is it?

A new state-of-the-art, but much maligned ATM-based digital communications bearer system designed for use by the Joint Task Force Headquarters and its component command elements. The system was designed in order to standardise the myriad systems which were procured from scratch each time PJHQ deployed an operation.

It is an operational and strategic comms system, rather than tactical. Consequently it prefers being left in place for decent periods of time, rather than moved about every 24 hours like Ptarmigan. Many people have criticised Cormorant for this lack of robustness, however they fail to remember that it was never designed to be bounced around the front line - it's supposed to stay 'in the rear with the gear' (and the Staff Officers).

Unfortunately, it has been cursed with some of the worst procurement decisions, shoddy workmanship, non-existent quality control measures and so-called support arrangements which verge on criminal neglect.

Composition

Cormorant comprises the following elements:

The Local Area Support (LASp) installation. The LASp provides the local area subsystem to the headquarters itself, comprising 64kbps digital voice terminals (DVTs - what the layperson might call a 'phone') and IP (ethernet) network subscriber ports. The LASp comes in two flavours - the LASp100 and the LASp30, each providing 100 and 30 clients respectively.

The phones link (through a series of distribution switches/hubs) into a Meridian Private Automated Branch Exchange (PABX). The PABX is controlled using a bespoke software management system, meaning that the system manager can centrally control the telephone dialling plan, group conferencing and prioritise voice traffic.

The ethernet component delivers IP connectivity to desktops and offers a service delivery point into DCSA's SECRET and RESTRICTED data networks. Hi-grade encryption is used to ensure data separation to avoid CESG heart attacks. Data subscribers can take advantage of Dynamic Host Control Protocol (DHCP) which allows quick'n'easy network access through automatic allocation of an IP address and other various network settings. The system also issues Domain Name Service (DNS) facilities to IP subscribers, meaning integration into the larger DCSA 'cloud' and allowing access to wider data functionality such as military intranets. A Coalition or 'non-UK' security domains is also available - again hi-grade encryption is used to ensure that it remains separate from UK traffic.

The central point in the LASp is the Nortel Passport 7440 Switch. This acts as both a switch and a router. All the voice and data distribution switches feed into the passport which acts as the heart of the installation. IP routing is carried out using 'virtual routers' (VRs) which are a software emulation of physical router interfaces, while voice calls are carried over a 'Passport Trunk' which is an ATM Switched Virtual Circuit (SVC).

The Core Element (CE) installation. This provides the main wide-area switching element in the Cormorant network. Like the LASp, it uses VRs for IP routing and Trunks for voice routing. It is based on a Nortel Passport 7480 Switch with cards/interfaces supporting the following:

2 x Ethernet 100BaseT 6 x Ethernet 10 BaseT 8 x V.11 (X.21) 2 x OC-3 MultiMode ATM (STM-1) 4 x E1 MVPe (Multipurpose Voice Platform with Enhanced Echo Cancellation)

Essentially the CE acts as a WAN and voice gateway between Cormorant and the rest of the network (and the wider world). It has reachback facilities using Satellite, ISDN and even analog modem (remember that some war-torn countries have lost almost all their comms infrastructure). A number of complex cryptographic modules ensure that all comms are securely encrypted to prevent interception. It also provides gateways into such systems as Ptarmigan, Bowman, RTTS/DLAN and others, as well as connecting to DCSA's larger ICS networks.

The Hybrid CE/LASp (CLASp) Module is a cross between a modified CE and a LASp30. It is intended for use on small-scale ops as a standalone comms bearer and local area subsystem all-in-one, for example with a high-readiness task such as supporting a Spearhead task which has a small number of staff.

The Bearer Module (BM) installation is a VHF radio relay facility primarily for use in connecting CEs over terrestrial means, negating the use of satellite communications (which are really expensive).

The Long Range Bearer Module (LRBM) installation is still a pipe dream at the time of writing. It is intended to be a radio relay facility which uses tropospheric scatter principles to transmit data, rather than traditional VHF radios.

Management System

The Cormorant Management Information System (CMIS) is a complex beast. Each CE, LASp100 and CLASp is fitted with a CMIS Enclosure (CMISe) which is a bit like a blade server, housing a number of computer servers and peripherals like hard disk drives. All configuration changes to subscriber facilities are carried out using applications which reside on the CMISe. The applications are a combination of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) and bespoke (written in-house) software programs. The COTS software includes HP Openview for network monitoring (using SNMP) and Optivity NetID for DHCP/DNS schema while bespoke software was written to control the telephony dialling plan and asset managament.

The Oracle relational database management system (RDMS) is used to ensure management system resilience. Each CMISe dataset is replicated to its peers, so that there is not a single point of failure in the system. However, with it being a system designed by civvies, it's very over-redundant!

Epilogue

PoisonDwarf is one of the most experienced Cormorant System Managers and knows virtually all there is to know about the system. As a result he's starting to get 'Stockholm Syndrome' and should be posted out ASAP for the good and the benefit of The Royal Signals.

Its amazing the Corps has not yet seen fit to waste his experience by promoting him to SSM in Depot Troop HAR HAR!!

['Spot the deliberate error - WO2 (Supvr IS) to WO2 (SSM) would, of course, be a demotion.']

2nd Epilogue

This article has now been nearly accurately quoted by the BBC after Cormorant was definitely, absolutely not retired in favour of Radwin. That they chose not to quote "which verge on criminal neglect" wasn't surprising!

Other Cormorants

  • School Cormorant - Mascot bird currently out-of-bounds after someone (and I know not whom) rubbed linseed oil in to it's feathers.
  • Liver Bird - Cormorant mascot symbolic of the city of Liverpool. As the Cormorant is synonymous with fish stealing, this is a rather apt choice.
  • Komoran - German for Cormorant, Komoran is also an Anti-Ship missile.