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Mobile Subscriber Equipment, The Future Of Communications In The Marine Corps

Mobile Subscriber Equipment, The Future Of Communications In The Marine Corps?


CSC 1992









Title: Mobile Subscriber Equipment, The Future of Communications in the

Marine Corps?


Author: Major Bill Febuary, United States Marine Corps


Thesis: Although MSE has some advantages over current Marine Corps

communication systems, it is an extremely expensive solution to mobile, secure

communications on the battlefie1d


Background: Mobile Subscriber Equipment (MSE) was procured to meet the Army's

communications requirements of their forward area battle units. MSE has proven itself to

be both a reliable mobile communications systems and interoperable with the TRITAC

architecture. Mobile communications in the Marine Corps is reaching an impasse; the

current variety of mobile equipment is reaching its life expectancy while the fielding of newer equipment is slowing because of declining budgets. MSE was seen by many senior

Marines as a quick fix for this problem. Although MSE has many capabilities, in order to

field enough equipment to support a MEF it would take close to $87 million. There are

other systems available that can provide the same capability as MSE at five percent of the cost. If the Marine Corps really wants the MSE capability it should pursue the biggest bang for the buck.


Recommendation: The Marine Corps should pursue the acquisition of the Mobile

Radio Telephone in order to-meet the desired MSE capability.


Mobile Subscriber Equipment, The Future of Communications in the

Marine Corps?




Thesis Statement. Although MSE has some advantages over current Marine Corps

systems, it is an extremely expensive solution to mobile, secure communications on the



I. History of TRITAC


II. MSE and TRITAC interface


III. Army employment of MSE in support of the Air Land Battle Doctrine

A. Marine Corps use of MSE during Operation Desert Storm


IV. Marine Corps TRITAC Architecture


B. Nodal Switching Concept

V. MSE capability for the Marine Corps

A. Cost

B. Lift constraints

C. Maintenance Requirements


VI. Alternatives to MSE


VII. Commanders Responsibilities



Mobile Subscriber Equipment, The Future of Communications in the

Marine Corps?



In 1971, as an effort to force interoperability of the Department of Defense

(DOD) communications networks, the armed services embarked on the development of

the Tri-Service Tactical (TRITAC) communications architecture. Through this effort

many new systems have been fielded to meet both service unique and interoperability

requirements. In 1980 the Army initiated the development of the Mobile Subscriber

Equipment (MSE) network to meet the needs of forward battle units. The current Air

Land Battle Doctrine of the Army is being serviced by MSE and TRITAC. During

Operation Desert Storm, MSE was provided to the Second Marine Division as an

additional communications means for the Commanding General and select staff, but

more importantly as a means to communicate with the attached Tiger Brigade. MSE

was ballyhooed as the answer to the Marine Corps' "lack of mobile, secure

communications on the battlefield" by many senior Marine officers. Although MSE

has some advantages over current Marine Corps systems it is an extremely expensive

solution to mobile, secure communications on the battlefield.

The Department of Defense's has maintained. a long and checkered history in its

attempts to establish a fully interoperable battlefield communications architecture. The

failure of the Mallard system, a multinational effort in 1969, to meet national tactical

needs gave way to the US growth of TRITAC. TRITAC was designed to meet the

communications requirements for the Army at echelons Corps and above, while the

Marine Corps directed its requirements at the Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) and

its major subordinate commands. TRITAC's aim was the establishment of an

architecture through the use of existing technology and common standards which would

permit the integration of newer digital technology as it became available. (1:831)

All services involved were subsequently assigned as lead agencies for the

development of the different pieces of the pie that would eventually make up the

TRITAC architecture. The Army became the lead agency for the development of the

large switching centers, AN/ITC-39 for telephones and the AN/TYC-39 for messages,

and the Ground Mobile Forces (GMF) satellite radio systems. The Marine Corps, in

turn, was given the medium level switching systems, which evolved into the Unit Level

Circuit Switch (ULCS); ULCS was designed for use from the division to the

brigade/regimental levels. The Air Force was given the lead for the development of the

digital terrestrial radio systems, from which the AN/TRC-l70's were acquired. The

Navy developed the Advance Narrow-Band Digital Voice Terminal (ANDVT).

Finally, the National Security Agency was tasked to develop the necessary hardware

and software to ensure communications security for all the systems. (2)

In 1982, the Army embarked on the acquisition of the Mobile Subscriber

Equipment (MSE) system to meet the area communications requirement at echelons

below Corps and down to the battalion level. MSE was acquired to meet the tactical

telephone and switchboard requirements with a smaller more mobile switching

capability. The concept of employment for MSE was in the forward battle area where

it would be impractical to locate large nodal switching centers, the AN/ITC-39. This

was, in part, due to the size and weight of these switchboards; but, more importantly, it was the lack of skilled operators needed to field this system. In addition, the MSE

requirements, established by the Army, were to be met by the acquisition of off-the-

shelf hardware and technology. The original one billion dollar price tag set by GTE

blossomed into a $4.3 billion venture. (3:831)

Mobile Subscriber Equipment can best be described as the combination of a

mobile cellular telephone and a commercial telephone. Just as in the mobile cellular

telephone concept, the subscriber would use the telephone to access a switchboard

through the use of a radio signal; the switchboard would direct the call based on the

area code and number dialed. In the MSE concept, the subscriber may access many

switches through the availability and use of multiple radio relays or wirelines. The

switchboard would do a flood search, querying all switchboards on the system for the

desired number, until it found a switch that could access the desired number. Unlike

the commercial telephone system, once a MSE subscriber becomes static and has access

to a nearby switch, he could, by wireline, plug into the system and turn off the radio

portion of the mobile radio telephone. Unlike the civilian cellular and commercial

telephone system, the number assigned to a subscriber does not change regardless of

location, whether moving or stationary. In essence, no call forwarding or special

dialing instructions are needed by the MSE user.

In the Army's Air Land Battle Doctrine, MSE and TRITAC are employed to

support a five division Corps-wide network. MSE would provide communications

support from the Corps' rear boundary to the division's maneuver battalion rear

boundary. MSE would cover an area of approximately 37,500 square kilometers.

Mobile Subscriber Equipment integrates the use of facsimile, telephone, and data

terminals through the combined use of radio telephones and wireline access into a

switching system at all levels. The Node Center Switch (NCS) makes up the backbone

of the MSE system and provides connectivity through the use of extension switches,

Large Extension Nodes (LEN's) and Small Extension Nodes (SEN's), and Radio

Access Units (RAU's). In order to communicate with other mobile and wire telephone

users throughout the theater, the Radio Access Units allow the Mobile Subscriber Radio

Telephone (MSRT) to interface into the MSE system through the NCS, LEN or SEN.

The MSE system enters the TRITAC network through a switching gateway, the

AN/TTC-39, which provides the mobile commander or staff the ability to

communicate with their higher headquarters. (4:1-2)

The most significant component within MSE is the System Control Center

(SCC), which provides the communicator real-time system management of the network

through a variety of data inputs. The SCC enables the system to be more robust and

survivable in the event a command post is partially or fully destroyed. MSE

subscribers will still have the capability to communicate with the next senior or

subordinate headquarters through the existing RAU's. (5:6-1)

During Operation Desert Storm, Second Marine Division was provided a SEN

and MSRT's by the Army Tiger Brigade. This SEN consisted of a switchboard team

and a radio link team. The radio link team provided the connectivity between the Tiger

Brigade and the Second Marine Division. The MSRT's were allocated to the

Commanding General, subordinate commanders and selected staff. The SEN was

linked to the NCS via a Marine Ground Mobile Forces (GMF) satellite radio; this

allowed the Tiger Brigade to access the established theater TRITAC architecture. This

configuration provided reliable communications between these units and a gateway for

the Tiger Brigade to request supply support for service unique items. (6:1)

The SEN also provided five Radio Access Units for entry into the MSE system

for mobile subscribers. In a static configuration, the MSRT's provided to Second

Marine Division were turned off and the telephones were connected to the neared

digital switch by a wireline. While in the mobile configuration, the MSRT's radio

signal provided the entry into the RAU, which in turn provided the entry into the SEN.

The RAU used a leapfrog method of movement in order to maintain connectivity to the

SEN. This point illustrates a drawback to the MSE system; the RAU's must move in

forward of the ground maneuver elements and risk exposing themselves to enemy

action in order to maintain connectivity. (7:1)

The present Marine TRITAC architecture has been achieved through the

fielding of the ULCS system, the AN/TTC-42 and the AN/SB-3685, and the GMF

systems over the last five years. The present concept of employment is similar to the

MSE nodal switching scheme. The AN/TTC-42, a medium level switchboard, and the

GMF terminals are presently being employed at the MEF, Division, Marine Air Wing

and Force Service Support Group level. The smaller AN/SB-3685's are located at the

regiment and air group levels. The ULCS systems are interconnected by the GMF

system and the newly fielded digital terrestrial radio systems. Just as the MSE

subscriber can plug into the NCS via wireline, the Marine subscriber can also plug into

the switching system.

The node switch concept presently employed by the Marine Corps does not have the capability to provide mobile radio telephone access. In order to achieve mobile

radio telephone connectivity a Radio Wire Interface (RWI) using antiquated unsecure

equipment is employed. In using the RW1 capability we are not fully employing the

capability of TRITAC as it was envisioned.

The same concerns that exist in the employment of the large switch gateways


for MSE also exist in the medium size ULCS system. The size and weight of the


ANPITC-42 prevents its use in the forward battle area, although the smaller AN/SB-


3685 can be carried anywhere a GMF terminal or the new digital terrestrial radio


equipment can go. Unlike MSE, ULCS is limited by the lack of a flood search


capability, thereby requiring the subscriber to be assigned a new number in his new


geographic area, or extremely detailed call-forwarding instructions and a timetable for


employment. On a positiyen9te, the Marine nodal switching concept does not unduly


place the communicator out in front of the forward combat elements.


The MSE system and the Marine TRITAC architecture provide the same secure


telephone connectivity using the existing digital technology and cryptographic


equipment. More importantly, the service unique switching systems are interoperable.


With all the capabilities that MSE can provide, why shouldn't the Marine Corps


buy the system? There are three reasons why the Marine Corps should not buy MSE as


a stand alone system. First, there is a significant lift requirement for a MEF-size MSE


system. Second, we can achieve a comparable MSE capability without having to


purchase the whole system. Finally, in this age of a declining budget we simply cannot


afford to purchase enough MSE equipment to outfit three MEF units.


With regard to the first issue, a notional MSE system for a MEF will


realize a significant increase in the number of vehicles and personnel necessary to man


the system. Outlined below are the recommended types of equipment and personnel needed


to field a notional MEF MSE system.





9 NCS 72* 63 153

4 LEN'S 20* 16 24

3 SEN VI 6* 6 18

6 SEN V2 12* 12 78

18 RAU'S 36* 36 108

1 SCC 3 3 3

3 AN/TTC-39D 9 9 15

200 MSRT

TOTAL 158 145 357


In comparison to the present ULCS, GMF, and terrestrial requirements for a MEF the


numbers are rather startling.





11 AN/TTC-42 11 11 61

18 SB-3865 LOOSE CARGO 99

1 AN/TSC-85 2 2 3

5AN/TSC-93 10* 10 15

24 AN/TRC-170 24* 24 72

66 AN/MRC-142 66* 132

TOTAL 113 47 382



The total lift requirement to move a Marine Expeditionary Force's worth of MSE

equipment nearly doubles the present Marine Corps nodal switching configuration lift

requirement. (8:18,24)

When MSE lift requirements are compared to the lift needed to move an

infantry regiment the numbers become more significant. A notional infantry regiment,

three Battalions and a Headquarters Company, has 165 pieces of rolling stock. MSE on

the other hand has 303 pieces of rolling stock. Although the comparison is somewhat

skewed, it is used to illustrate a point: does the commander need ground combat assets

or the communications capability that MSE can provide? I would suggest that a

commander will want everything; but more importantly, he will want his combat forces

with their organic capability. (9:4-12)

Secondly, we can achieve an MSE capability for far less the expense and a

minor disruption of the present system. The Marine Corps currently has a standard

Radio-Wire Interface (RWI) capability resident down to the regimental level. The RWI

capability is employed with an analog switchboard and requires operator intervention

to direct a call; this is not the most optimal use of available technology. International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT), the manufacturers of the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS), has a Mobile Radio Telephone (MRT) that can

interface with the ULCS system. The MRT is a SINCGARS radio chassis with minor

modification for interoperability with the ULCS system. The acquisition of the sixty

MRT base stations and 600 new handsets (to be used with existing SINCGARS radios)

for three Marine Expeditionary Forces is an extremely low cost alternative to MSE,

approximately $3 million. If a f1ood search capability is required, the AN/TTC-39D,

which is presently in the acquisition phase, could meet this requirement. These

alternatives provide many advantages to the Marine Corps: much of the equipment is

presently in the Marine Corps inventory or presently in the acquisition/fielding stage,

and maintenance personnel and facilities are organic to the communication unit up to

4th echelon, with a depot capability within the logistics bases. MSE has an extensive

requirement for contractual support which is cost-prohibitive and defies the

commanders control over the establishment of priorities within the maintenance cycle.


Finally, the Marines Corps should not purchase MSE because it is simply too


expensive. In order to equip a MEF with MSE equipment it would cost $84.28 million.





NCS 9 $2.4M $2l.6M

LEN 4 $2.6M $l0.4M

SEN VI 3 $400K $l.2M

SEN V2 6 $430K $2.58M

RAU 18 $l.0M $l8.0M

SCC l $3.5M $3.5M

AN/TTC-39D 3 $3.0M $9.0M

MSRT 200 $90K $l8.0M

TOTAL COST ($M) $84.28M


The cost requirements listed above do not include the cost for training, spare

parts and warranty. GTE, the manufacturer of MSE, has kept a close hold on the MSE

technology. Because of this, only GTE repair personnel are authorized to do any

maintenance above first echelon, including depot level repair. In order to equip

the Marine Corps with enough MSE equipment to outfit three MEF's it would cost

$252.84 million. In comparison, ULCS with the MRT capability and the AN/TTC-39D

would cost approximately twelve million dollars. In this era of the declining

defense budget, it would be outright theft for the Marine Corps to purchase the

MSE system. (11:17,30)

Although MSE has tremendous advantages, at all levels, over the current

capability of the Marine Corps secure mobile communications systems, it also has an

enormous price tag. The force reductions being experienced DOD-wide have serious

implications in our capability to man a MSE system at any level.

There are relatively low cost alternatives available to the Marine Corps for a MSE capability. If given the choice to have a MSE communications capability or the

capability to wage combat, commanders at all levels of the Corps will chose the latter.

The Commandant must make a choice; whether he wants the Marine Corps to have an

extensive capability for communications over the battlefield or the capability to take the fight to the aggressor.




1Janes Military Communications 1990 - 1991, Mobile Subscriber Equipment,



2CWO-3 Danny Hurd, Telephonic Interview, Mar 1992.


3Janes Military Communications 1990 - 1991, p. 831.


4Mobile Subscriber Equipment (MSE) Architecture, Special Text US Army

Signal Center, Fort Gordon, Georgia, 12 April 1988, p. 1-2.


5Mobile Subscriber Equipment (MSE) Architecture, p. 6-1.


6Major Nick Petronzio, "Mobile Subscriber Equipment," Fax Document,

Mar 1992, p. 1.


7Petronzio, p. 1.


8MSE/TRITAC Comparison Study, Marine Corps Systems Command, MCCDC,

Quantico, Va., Jan 1992, p. 18 and p. 24.


9FMFMRP 1-11, Fleet Marine Force Organization (Warfighting Center,

MCCDC, Quantico, Va., 14 Feb 90), p. 4-12.


10Janes Military Communications 1990 - 1991, p. 139.


11MSE/TRITAC Comparison Study, p. 17 and p. 30.





1. FMFMRP 1-11. Fleet Marine Force Organization. Deputy Commander for

Warfighting, MCCDC, Quantico, Va. 14 Feb 90.


2. Hill, Col. R. G. G-6, I MEF, Camp Pendleton, California, Professional

Enhancement Discussions. Jun and Dec 1991, Feb and Mar 92.


3. Hurd, CWO3 Danny. Technical Control Officer, Ninth Communications

Battalion, I MEF, Camp Pendleton, California Telephonic Interview. Mar 1992.


4. Learn, Maj. Timothy. Commanding Officer, Support Company, Ninth

Communications Battalion, I MEF, Camp Pendleton California. Telephonic

Interview, Nov 1991.


5. Janes Military Communications 1990-1991:139,831.


6. MSE/TRITAC Comparison Study. Marine Corps Systems Command, 1992.


7. Mobile Subscriber Equipment (MSE) Architecture. Special Text by USA

Signal Center, Fort Gordon. 12 April 1988.


8. Petronzio, Maj. Nick. "Mobile Subscriber Equipment." HQMC, Telecom

Branch, C4 Division, Code CCT-612. Mar 92.

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