Army accelerates critical satcom efforts

WIN-T program manager advances at-the-halt and fixed satellite communications programs

In the March issue of Defense Systems, Editor-in-Chief Barry Rosenberg discussed the Army’s communications-on-the-move program with Col. William “Chuck” Hoppe, project manager of the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical. Although the on-the-move program gets most of the publicity, the program office also is responsible for the service’s vital at-the-halt and fixed satellite communications programs. In a continuation of that interview, Hoppe discusses protected comms-at-the-halt, satellite upgrades and commercial payloads.

DS: Please bring me up-to-date on the Army’s protected comms-at-the-halt program, the Secure Mobile Anti-Jam Reliable Tactical-Terminal (SMART-T), that will be designed to take advantage of increase bandwidth facilitated by the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite.

Hoppe: SMART-T is the legacy protected comms system. I say legacy in that we have just finished fielding all of the original SMART-T systems. We can do this over EHF, and now we’ve got to be prepared to take advantage of the Advanced EHF bird. Of course, the Air Force is the constellation owner. So we work hand in glove with the Air Force on those particular systems. But we, the Army, have been building upgrade kits for SMART-T to take advantage of AEHF, and we’ve been waiting on the Air Force to deliver us the mission planning software, which the Air Force has now released to us. It has to be completely backward-compatible with the existing architecture so that we can still use the constellations that we use today but at the same time be prepared and positioned to take advantage of the capabilities of AEHF once it goes hot. [An engine failure placed the first of six AEHF satellites in an improper orbit, but Air Force officials believe they can properly position the satellite by the end of 2011.]

So we’re going to start fielding the upgrade kits for AEHF, which is a big deal. Once they get [the AEHF satellite] in its proper orbit and tested, the Army will be positioned to take advantage of that.

DS: What are you seeing in the industry that might be of value to Army satcom?

Hoppe: There are a number of initiatives that I’m very keenly watching because they have almost a direct and immediate impact on the capabilities of the Defense Department and specifically the Army. There have been a number of conversations out in industry about either putting a military Ka band on commercial satellites or posting a military Ka-band payload.

DS: Yes, Inmarsat and others have been talking about hosted payloads for the military.

Hoppe: Right. So that actually is a potentially huge capability because, of course, military Ka is almost exclusively now on Wideband Global Satcom, and that’s obviously only one constellation. So if we have with additional capability on orbit, then that’s capability that we can then take advantage of.

The other thing is that I think [WIN-T] has had an impact on the industry, in that the ability to do comms-on-the-move in austere environments has now taken on some significant legs in terms of development of things like antennas. So we’re starting to see people now that are really starting to think through energy, what we call equivalent isotropically radiated power.

Everything is a trade-off in the physics realm, but I think there is some great movement, especially in antenna development design and pointing accuracy. I’d like to see it get cheaper frankly, but I think that will come with competition as more and more people get into the business space.

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