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Losing the Trailer

The Army examines solutions for more agile satellite dish setup.

Advanced, automatic-closing, man-portable satellite communication technologies are offering the U.S. Army the chance to move away from having to trailer large satellite dishes. As part of the armored brigade combat team on-the-move pilot program, which commences soldier testing at Ft. Stewart, Georgia, in January, the Army is considering five very small aperture terminals to replace the trailer-dependent, 2.4-meter legacy satellite transportable terminals, explains Col. Shane Taylor, USA, project manager, Tactical Network, Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications-Tactical.

“Our 2.4-meter STTs [satellite transportable terminals] that are out in the current fleet, those are starting to be obsolete, so there’s an opportunity here to look at some next-generation capabilities for at the quick halt [use],” Col. Taylor says.

“The STTs have been used in the Army’s network for 10 plus years now, in various configurations, but the technology is older, and it requires a lot of logistics in order to transport it and set it up,” adds Edward Reber, program director, Combat Platforms, General Dynamics Mission Systems, the contract prime and lead integrator.

Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T) and the Army’s Network Cross-Functional Team (N-CFT), who are conducting the pilot, want a transportable satellite communication (SATCOM) solution that does not require a trailer or a lot of setup, especially in a near-peer contested environment. While the STTs have been an important transportable and mobile satellite system for the last 10 or so years—providing crucial secure voice, video and data communications—the service needs a more expeditionary solution. The new technologies being considered are lower in size, weight and power, and can set up very quickly.

“Industry has done a really good job in that space over the last couple years of designing systems that we can put up at a much more rapid pace,” Col. Taylor notes.

The five very small aperture terminals (VSATs) are from: Airbus Ranger 2400, AvL Technologies 2200T, DataPath CCT-200, L3Harris Hawkeye III, and GigaSat FA-240.

Army officials said that the technologies were selected for consideration in some cases because of their quick one-button deployment capabilities, ease of use, motorized features and support for the existing SATCOM networks, such as the frequency division multiple access and network-centric waveform.

“We are targeting under 30 minutes for setting up some of these systems,” the colonel remarks. “That is a significant improvement.”

Moreover, some of the dishes on their own weigh less than 300 pounds. When packed in hardened protective man-portable cases that can be put on an aircraft,others weigh between 600-700 pounds.

“The five different alternatives that the Army is looking at in the pilot are going to offer size, weight and power options,” states Reber. “They each have different performance characteristics and different set up and tear-down times. They are five readily available technologies that exist today, and the Army will evaluate all of these parameters against what they have already in the STTs and find a better solution going forward.”

The pilot program is testing the VSAT offerings as part of its first course of action, or Battalion Command Post 1 (BNCP 1). That scenario represents the most robust platform of communications capabilities being considered in the pilot. The capabilities, which also include a HoverFly unmanned aerial vehicle to extend line-of-sight-communications, will be networked and fully distributed across four armored vehicles in the BNCP 1 grouping in the pilot.