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Army certifying earth terminals to leverage military satellites

September 14, 2011

By Amy Walker

With more expansive satellite communications requirements, the Army is moving away from expensive commercial satellites and leveraging those of the U.S. military.

"The advantage is two-fold --there is a big cost avoidance in utilizing military satellites, second the military requires us to be more efficient with the resources," said Lt. Col. Gregory Coile, product manager for Satellite Communications (PdM SATCOM), assigned to the Army's Project Manager Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (PM WIN-T).

PM WIN-T is part of the Army's Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T).

Through its increased use of U.S. military satellites, the Army could potentially save millions. U.S. Army Central Command (CENTCOM) alone is spending millions of dollars a year on commercial satellite use. Without enough bandwidth to entirely avoid the use of commercial Ku band satellite frequencies, the Army plans to utilize military satellites whenever feasible, said Lynn Epperson, acting deputy for PdM SATCOM. To further this mission, PM WIN-T is certifying its earth satellite terminals with military Ka and X-band frequency capability to take advantage of the military's Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) satellites.

"Certifying commercial-off-the-shelf terminals may take some up-front funding and time but will be well worth the wait in the long run," said Marc Crudo, project lead for Deployable Ku Band Earth Terminals (DKET).

With satellite terminal certification, the government is endorsing that the terminal meets Department of Defense (DoD) efficiency standards to obtain and transmit the bandwidth to support the Army's requirements over military satellites. The certification verifies that the antenna and terminal perform within military specifications, do not interfere with other users and will not cause possible damage to the satellite.

The Ka and X band certification for the Army's Secure Internet Protocol Router/Non-secure Internet Protocol Router (SIPR/NIPR) Access Point (SNAP) satellite terminals was completed in June. The certification testing for the larger-size DKET terminals was completed in Aug., and conditional Ka and X band DKET certification is expected by early Oct.

While SNAP satellite terminals are designed for use at small combat outposts, DKETs are geared for larger hub locations. From their respective ends of the spectrum, these capabilities support and complement the WIN-T network -- the backbone of Army battlefield communications.

"SNAPs are the spokes of the wheel while DKETS provide the hub to extend networked mission command to the tactical edge." Coile said.

Both SNAPs and DKETs were designed to have maximum interoperability within the Army and with Joint Forces and tie into the greater WIN-T network. SNAPs can link into Regional Hub Nodes, Unit Hub Nodes, and into DKETs, which provide much larger bandwidth capabilities and volume distribution.

"Having both the SNAPs and DKETs certified at Ka and X bands changes the communication landscape and augments the WIN-T architecture of the Tactical (TAC) Hub Nodes, Satellite Transportable Terminals (STTs), unit hub SATCOM trucks and regional hubs," said Crudo.

As more SNAPs are fielded to augment the units, there is only so much capacity the unit hubs can bear, so having the SNAPs link into the DKET terminals is a viable alternative. DKETs also pass along other communication traffic that supplement the capability of the TAC Hub Nodes. In addition, within the WIN-T Increment 1 network, STTs link either into unit hub SATCOM trucks or into regional hubs. However, when needed, STTs can also link into DKET terminals.

Additional kits will be provided for existing SNAP terminals in theater that do not have the upgraded capability to enable them to receive the Ka an X band frequencies. The DKETs antenna is capable of receiving and transmitting Ku, Ka or X band; however, there is some equipment that needs to be changed in order to provide the desired band.

Because the DoD's high efficiency requirements, using Ka and X is more efficient and effective than Ku-band, and there are significant cost savings by not having to lease commercial satellite time.

"Since Ka or X band terminals are certified, the Army Signal Soldiers can utilize military satellites, and not pay any additional dollars to use the military satellites," Coile said. "They put in a request, it gets approved, and they do not have to pay for that transponder space."

In order for the government to utilize commercial satellites, it must pay for the bandwidth or transponder space. Therefore, the military must be efficient in their use of commercial satellite resources to reduce cost. Use of military satellite resources significantly reduces cost, but the government is still very concerned about the bandwidth efficiency and how much of that satellite power is being utilized. The amount of available space is limited and has to be prioritized, Coile said.

"It's a pie and there is only so much to divvy up for all of the requirements of each particular area of operation," Coile said.

Since these are DoD assets, the Army is required to put in a request for the allocation of a set amount of transponder space on the satellite. To obtain use on a military satellite, a Satellite Access Request is submitted by an organization up through its chain of command. Ultimately the Combatant Command (COCOM) is the controlling authority of the satellite resources in a specific area of responsibility (AOR). So, for example, in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, CENTCOM has a satellite planning cell dedicated to oversee these resources. The DoD provides resources to CENTCOM, which would then distribute it within their AOR, Epperson said.

While the Air Force is responsible for developing and building the actual satellites, the Army has developed, procured and fielded the earth terminals such as SNAPs and DKETs. The Joint forces work together to ensure successful interoperability.

"The Ka and X band certifications for SNAPs and DKETs is an important step in decreasing the Army's reliability of commercial satellite use," Coile said. "It allows the military the flexibility of moving beams or allocating transponder space as different missions or new conflicts arise without having to deal with contractual issues with the commercial sector."

Amy Walker is a staff writer for Symbolic Systems, Inc. supporting the Army's Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T).

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