By Michael Mcgarvey, Deputy Product Manager, Wideband Enterprise Satellite Systems
From the foxhole to the Oval Office, effective communications are critical to the execution of countless DOD operations across the globe and around the clock. Comprising orbiting satellites and the earth terminals from and to which they relay data, satellite communications, or SATCOM, systems are perhaps the most strategic communications tools available to DOD, including its commander in chief.
At a recent ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark initial operational capability (IOC) of the latest generation of DOD SATCOM terminals, Brig. Gen.(P) John B. Morrison, commander of the Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM), said, “This terminal is designed to be there when all other communications go down. As such, it is a true national asset.”
The terminal to which Morrison referred is part of DOD’s Modernization of Enterprise Terminals (MET) acquisition program. This program is administered by the Product Manager Wideband Enterprise Satellite Systems (PdM WESS), which falls within the Project Manager Defense Communications and Army Transmission Systems (PM DCATS) portfolio of programs. In turn, PM DCATS reports to the Program Executive Office Enterprise Information Systems (PEO EIS).
PEO EIS Douglas Wiltsie, who hosted the ceremony, described MET as “the most advanced satellite terminal project in the government sector.” That hasn’t always been the case with DOD systems. The MET program is replacing aging, bandwidth-limited infrastructure, including legacy Ka-band Satellite Transmit and Receive Systems terminals; AN/GCS-52, -39 and -70 terminals; and AN/FCS-78 terminals, which can no longer support DOD’s burgeoning SATCOM requirements and throughput demands. With advanced MET systems, DOD can leverage the vastly increased data throughput capabilities of its constellation of Ka-band Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) satellites, which began launching in 2007.
Speaking at the July IOC ceremony at the 596th Signal Company’s earth terminal facility on Fort Belvoir, Va., Lt. Col. Samuel Ancira, PdM WESS, said, “Together, MET and WGS are finally putting us ahead of the curve in transporting data, voice and video. They’re moving us past our reliance on hard-to-maintain, limited-throughput legacy equipment and our increasing dependence on commercial satellites, which are expensive to use and are not standardized, not interoperable, and often times not even secure.”
The Belvoir MET installation comprises a fixed 12.2-meter antenna reflector assembly and associated SATCOM equipment, including control, monitor and alarm; performance measurement and testing; frequency and time standard; and transmit and receive subsystems. The installation also is hardened to protect against interference produced by high-altitude electromagnetic pulse (HEMP) threats, such as low-yield nuclear explosions.
Fort Belvoir—along with Fort Detrick, Md., and Ramstein, Germany—is at the vanguard of the MET installation program. The lessons learned at this facility are improving and accelerating other installation efforts, both stateside and overseas. In addition to the hardened 12.2-meter terminal installations at Fort Belvoir, PdM WESS is fielding non-hardened 12.2-meter terminals, both HEMP and non-HEMP 7.2-meter transportable variations, and a fixed 4.8-meter antenna variant for locations with lower throughput requirements. Each variant is built using a modular design intended to reduce acquisition and maintenance costs over the full life cycle. More specifically, MET systems can simultaneously:
- Communicate with WGS, legacy military X-band Defense Satellite Communications System satellites, and with commercial satellites, if necessary.
- Transmit and receive X and Ka frequency bands.
- Perform dual-polarization operations in Ka frequency band.
MET also supports the Defense Information Systems Network, the non-classified internet protocol router network, the secret IP router network, and the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System; and DOD’s net-centric, hub-and-spoke communications model. It can monitor and control as many as six collocated earth terminals from a single control, monitor and alarm unit, and can switch baseband signaling from a single bank of modems to many collocated earth terminals through the use of an L-band switch subsystem.
A SMART ACQUISITION STRATEGY
Early on, the team at PdM WESS knew it had a decision to make. They could have elected to maintain the legacy terminals in place, but that option wouldn’t have resolved DOD’s capacity issues in the face of increasing demand, much of which exists whether we are at war or not. In turn, the DOD would continue to increase its dependence on rental of commercial satellite systems. And all while DOD—under a different program—is simultaneously launching state-of-the-art, mission-essential satellites into space.
Those WGS satellites, each able to accommodate about 4.75 GHz of bandwidth, can handle as much traffic as 10 DSCS (legacy) satellites. That equates to between 2.0 and 2.5 gigabits of data transmitted per second. None of that matters, though, if the earth terminals responsible for transmitting and receiving that data are bandwidth-limited. Simply maintaining these legacy terminals is akin to buying a top-of-the-line stock car but relegating it to the slow lanes on the track.
Instead of allocating limited funds to maintain aging, functionally limited equipment, DOD and the PdM WESS team elected to acquire and field more technically advanced and vastly more capable terminals: MET. This gave that muscle car the freedom to run—to leverage WGS capabilities—and to win.
As Ancira put it, “Our job is to develop, acquire, produce, field and sustain reliable, effective and supportable enterprise satellite systems for DOD and the joint community. In this case [with MET], that means delivering a much improved, modernized terminal while ensuring we do not disrupt much needed services that the signal commands provide on a daily basis.” To make this happen, PdM WESS is collaborating with four primary stakeholders:
- The Army (G-8, the Army Strategic Command within Army Space and Missile Defense Command, and individual signal commands).
- The Missile Defense Agency.
- The DOD Teleport System (with the Defense Information Systems Agency).
- The Air Force and Navy.
That collaboration makes the MET system, as Morrison put it, “inherently a JOINT capability, incorporating joint standards, joint technologies and joint architectures.” This is critical for so many reasons. Joint systems and architectures and software require standardization. Standardization allows interoperability, reduces costs and waste, and allows leaders to fully utilize the tools at their disposal. “Indeed,” Morrison stated, “we are moving to a truly joint network based on centralized management, decentralized execution.”
LONG ROAD TO SUCCESS
As productive as the program is today, the MET IOC timeline was in serious jeopardy just three years ago, in large part from significant losses of subject matter expertise as a result of a 2011 Base Realignment and Closure relocation. “Meeting these challenges,” said Col. Clyde E. Richards Jr., PM DCATS, “required cohesive engagement from the top executives in the PEO, the Army Contracting Command and Harris Corporation, all the way down to the team members at the project level. It involved reorganization, reset and intensive management as a team throughout the process.”
So, then, in addition to its stakeholders, PdM WESS has had to maximize cooperation and interaction with a host of DOD and industry partners, including the Communications and Electronics Command, the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center and NETCOM, led by Morrison. Perhaps most importantly, it required a close working relationship with each of the signal commands.
“Most of all,” Ancira said, reflecting on the signal units at Fort Belvoir, “I want to thank the 1st Signal Brigade and the 596th Signal Company for the work they do each and every day behind those walls that are delivering life-saving communications to our Soldiers.” Morrison echoed that gratitude: “We’re talking about the Soldiers, Marines, sailors, airmen and even the president himself, all of whom rely on this critical technology.”
Finally, as Richards noted earlier, it meant intense coordination with the program’s industry partners, including Harris Corporation and a number of subcontractors, such as Systek Technologies. “Three years ago,” Richards said, “it would have been hard to imagine that we would make it here today. But we did. It is a victory for our team, it is a victory for our troops, and it is a victory for our national defense.”
“This program lays the critical foundation for the next steps of our network modernization efforts,” Wiltsie said at the ceremony. “By the end of the program, PdM WESS will have fielded more than 90 of these MET terminals across the DOD. They are the future of DOD SATCOM.” According to Ancira, “These terminals will form the backbone of the DOD’s secure satellite communications network. They will allow our Soldiers and civilians to provide worldwide strategic satellite communications for high-priority military communications and missile defense systems.”
Subscribe to Access AL&T is the premier online news source for the Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology (AL&T) Workforce.