[Satellite News 08-13-12] Raytheon has been pushing for an alternate Air Force satellite terminal program with three Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) military terminals it currently produces, claiming that they already meet 80 percent of the military’s requirements. The initiative stems back to 2002, when the Air Force awarded Boeing a contract for Family of Advanced Beyond Line of Sight Terminals (FAB-T) that would work with the AEHF satellites. The program, however, experienced several hiccups and spent 10 years in development, leading to several cost overruns that forced the military to issue a Request For Proposal (RFP) in April for alternative solutions as a risk mitigation effort.
Since 2002, Raytheon has won three separate contracts for similar terminals, all of which were upgrade contracts or new start programs that would introduce AEHF terminals to three different branches of the U.S. military. The Raytheon AEHF terminals passed production acquisition milestone decisions and successfully tested with the on-orbit AEHF satellite, demonstrating interoperable communications using the satellite’s Extended Data Rate (XDR) waveform.
In June, Raytheon submitted a proposal to the Air Force for the FAB-T alternate program to provide secure, anti-jam communications for the U.S. president and senior military advisers. Raytheon Network Centric Systems Vice President of Integrated Communication Systems Scott Whatmough spoke with Satellite News about the company’s recent demonstrations with the U.S. Air Force and the results it expects to see in the near future.
Satellite News: Why were you required to hold a demonstration for the alternate FAB-T so soon after submitting your company’s proposal?
Whatmough: Given that this is a risk-reduction program for the Air Force, one of the things they wanted to do is make sure that the bidders were not just ‘Powerpoint’ bidders, but actually had capabilities ready. So, the Air Force inserted a requirement for bidders to do a post-submittal demonstration. We held that demonstration in late June — approximately two weeks after the proposal was submitted. It was defined as a four-hour demo. Obviously, we knew we couldn’t demonstrate the full AEHF capability in all of its modes and configurations in four hours, so the goal was to demonstrate to the Air Force that we really do have a significant portion of this capability to substantiate our claims. We carefully went through the requirements and identified the areas that we believed the government would view as the most difficult and risky and demonstrated those capabilities at our facility in Marlboro, Mass. It was a big milestone for us.
Satellite News: How did the demonstration turn out?
Whatmough: From our point of view, it went very well. We did a combination of over-the-air demonstrations. It’s hard to get time on the actual AEHF satellite, so we used a simulator that emulates the performance on the satellite. We couldn’t show the Air Force everything that we could do, but we showed them the hard stuff. We showed them some of the capabilities that are unique requirements to FAB-T that, for example, didn’t exist on NMT, but were developed on our Smart-T program. I think we showed them something that they may not have seen in the past from their previous experience. I don’t know exactly what Boeing has and has not been able to demonstrate, but I do know that we were able to demonstrate exactly what we promised. The feedback from the Air Force customer seemed to be good, but I won’t put words in their mouths. The body language seemed to indicate that we delivered what they were looking for.
Satellite News: Which other companies are you competing with on the FAB-T contract?
Whatmough: When we were going into the proposal, it looked like we were going to compete with the usual suspects — Harris, Rockwell, Northrop, L3 and others. Of course, some of those companies were bound by previous agreements with Boeing and there was always a question of whether or not they would bid in an alternate program when they were participants on the main program. It turns out that we were the only bidder.
Satellite News: Does being the only bidder affect the government’s time schedule on determining a winner?
Whatmough: It doesn’t really change anything on the timeline issue. The government still needs to do their due diligence and look at the details and costs of our proposal and look at the results of our demonstration. The strength of Raytheon’s case is that we’ve been successful on three different advanced AEHF programs. Each one of those programs brought some of their own unique requirements to the table that allowed us to produce a comprehensive offering.
Satellite News: Is it a definite that a FAB-T contract will be awarded by the projected date in September?
Whatmough: It really is in the hands of the Air Force. We expect that there will be a contract award in September of this year. That is still clearly the goal of the Air Force and it’s our goal as well. I have every reason to believe that they are on track to issue that award on time.
Satellite News: Supposing that you win the contract, which milestone would you be working to meet first?
Whatmough: The key milestone and date is to deliver a FAB-T terminal into production by September 2015. There are many additional milestones along the way, but getting under contract is critical for us so that we can get that last 20 percent of the capability designed. We then need to build up the final form-factor systems, go through a qualification program and then put those terminals on the table.