Providing the best possible protection for warfighters could mean the difference between life and death. Here, we look at how satellite technology is evolving to protect warfighters, as they take-on missions in dangerous war zones across the world.
From Blue Force Tracking (BFT) to Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) and Tactical SHF Satellite Terminals (TSST), each new acronym in the military satcom ground terminal business brings with it a slew of critical capabilities designed to enhance military operations and save lives. Manufacturers are working with their military clients to supply the appropriate tools and infrastructure to the warfighter in a timely manner. To do so, terminal developers are moving technology in two directions — to and from the commercial satellite sector.
Keith Buckley, ASC Signal president and CEO, and his company have been developing communication products for a wide variety of customers both vertically between markets and across different geographic regions. Buckley said his company’s “in-house” approach to military terminal development has provided a healthy business for the commercial satellite industry in general.
“Our antennas, for example, have a combination of both multi-band on the same feed, or interchangeable feeds to switch bands. That was, initially, a commercial development,” says Buckley. “In the case of fixed terminals, a lot of that multi-band feed technology was then ported to the military solutions. For military systems, the less there is to deploy into the theater of operations, the better you are. The more versatile your terminals are, the easier it is to manage operations from a logistics standpoint. This was a very easy porting of our technology for much of our transportable technology — our comms-on-the-pause technology, which we then have geared heavily towards military applications.”
One of the main cross-development efforts in recent military terminal technology is Blue Force Tracking — a military term used to describe a GPS-enabled system that aims to provide U.S. military commanders and forces with location information about friendly and hostile military forces. The system transmits locations over the Force 21 Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) network and transmits those specific coordinates to the U.S. Army Tactical Operations Center.
Blue Force Tracking-2 (BFT-2), the U.S. Army’s next-generation situational awareness system, will begin seeing action in battle theaters in 2012. The Army selected ViaSat as the winner of the $477 million BFT-2 program contract and will base its system on the operator’s ArcLight mobile satcom technology. “The technology stands on its own merit,” says ViaSat vice president of Global Satcom Systems, Phil Berry. “The BFT-2 architecture has effectively reduced latency by shortening the path that position-location data must travel before it reaches warfighters in theater. Under the current BFT architecture, data from forward-deployed units must pass through a network operations center (NOC), which processes and rebroadcasts the data provided by satellites and ground stations. With BFT-2, the L-band transceivers bypass the NOC, transmitting position-location data to a satellite and then to a ground station, before sending it back to warfighters in the field. This is a quantum leap in capabilities for the Army and Marine Corps. It’s significantly faster and more efficient and will bring real-time situational awareness to warfighters in combat vehicles and rotary-wing aircraft.”
Since the BFT-2 contract was announced, the Army has placed $71.1 million in orders with ViaSat under the program. In addition to new terminals, ViaSat will provide additional terrestrial Internet connectivity, support for network operations and production vehicular transceivers. “These orders will enable ViaSat to accelerate ground vehicular transceiver production and support Army installation and field testing of the BFT-2 system this year,” says Berry.
Commercial off-the-shelf blue force and blue personnel tracking (BFT/BPT) specialists also are making an impact on cross-vertical development efforts. In July, Track24 unveiled a new turnkey situational command and control solution, the SCC Titan, which aims to offer full BFT capabilities to military commanders alongside upgraded features including red force contact, machine-to-machine (M2M) signaling and a communications platform engineered to support and integrate battlefield VHF/UHF/HF radio with the incumbent AES256-encrypted satellite communications network. SCC Titan's new M2M capabilities are supported by Track24 Defense’s Whisper satellite device, which uses the Iridium satellite network to provide secure AES256 satellite communications.
“Offering affordable, secure, interoperable beyond-line-of-sight situational command and control, was the initial challenge,” says Giles Peeters, Track24 defense sector director. “However, SCC Titan's capabilities, which have been upgraded since the original SCC launch, allow us to present forces around the world with a comprehensive blue force tracking battle management system, that can stand alone or be integrated into any other C2 strategic system, at a fraction of the cost of other solutions on the market.”
Comtech Mobile Datacom, which rivaled ViaSat in its bid for the Blue Force Tracking 2 award, is still supplying the Army with support for its legacy systems. The company recently received an initial funded order totaling $4.6 million to support the U.S. Army's Movement Tracking System (MTS) program with a supply of satellite bandwidth, satellite network operations, engineering services and program management support through December 2011. The order was placed under Comtech’s existing $384 million Blue Force Tracking (BFT-1) to support the MTS program, which has now been consolidated under its direction.