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Army Deploying Enhanced Signals Intelligence Vehicle to Afghanistan

July 15, 2010
By George I. Seffers, SIGNAL Connections
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About 10 months ago, the U.S. Army began turning wrenches on the Prophet Enhanced signals intelligence (SIGINT) vehicle under an aggressive fielding schedule. Now, soon-to-be-deployed soldiers at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, will arrive in Afghanistan with a more survivable vehicle and dramatically improved SIGINT collecting capabilities.

Because U.S. soldiers and coalition forces have a critical need to collect as much information as possible about enemy forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. Defense Department has been pushing increased intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to the field as rapidly as possible under an effort generally referred to as the “ISR surge” ordered by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. As part of that effort, Army officials embarked on a mission to streamline significantly the deployment of the Prophet Enhanced, a platform for collecting signals intelligence information.

The new Prophet Enhanced vehicles are housed on a Panther variant of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, an armored, six-wheeled vehicle with a V-shaped hull for deflecting blast fragments from improvised explosive devices. The previous system was on a high-mobility, multipurpose wheeled vehicle (HMMWV). The Panther offers greater protection and mission flexibility. Because the HMMWVs were overloaded with weight, they were confined largely to a forward operating base. With Prophet Enhanced, they will be able to move about more freely, broadening the range of signals collecting missions they can fulfill.

Besides the armor, Prophet Enhanced offers a number of benefits over the predecessor system, says Lt. Col. Jim Ross, USA, Prophet product manager. The signals intelligence components were designed with a “kitting strategy,” meaning every piece is either part of kit A, the requisite cables and other infrastructure, or kit B, the actual boxes that collect and distribute data. The kit components can be easily removed from the vehicle and used inside a tent or building and then replaced inside the vehicle if needed in a remote location.

In addition, the vehicle carries new, state-of-the-art emitters, and the SIGINT baseline software has been upgraded from version one to version two, which improves interoperability and reduces some of the complexity for the operators, allowing them to better focus on the mission. It also has fewer computer screens and a graphical user interface, which enables soldiers to find all the information needed on one system rather than jumping from one to the other because each system handles different kinds of information. Prophet Enhanced also includes onboard satellite communications, vastly improving the crew’s ability to communicate and conduct missions while away from the forward operating base.

“The satellite communications capability has to be there in order for it to leave the confines of the forward operating base. It can stay within the network and still communicate effectively,” says Col. Ross. “The true value is in a fully networked system, but Prophet Enhanced can operate completely untethered when necessary.

“In 10 months, we went from the award of the contract to soldiers being deployed with the best technology and equipment available,” says Col. Ross. “It’s been a lot of hard work by the Army and by the contractor team to ensure our soldiers deploy with the greatest capabilities we can provide.”

In addition to forts Bragg and Polk, the system is being fielded to Fort Knox, Kentucky, Fort Drum, New York, and Fort Wainwright, Alaska.

General Dynamics is leading the contractor team on the project. Technically, the contract was awarded to General Dynamics C4 Systems in February 2009, but a protest bid by the losing contractor held up the work until the issue was resolved about 10 months ago, Col. Ross explains.