One stage in the U.S. Navy's four-year quest to replace aging satellite radio gear ended May 31, when service officials placed an end-of-the-day call to tell Raytheon they had beaten Harris for the estimated $1.1 billion Navy Multiband Terminal (NMT) contract.
Raytheon program manager Glen Bassett said the award is a victory for his firm's open-architecture approach to designing the software for NMT, which is expected to replace communications systems — some 20 years old — designed by both Harris and Raytheon.
"We think we have the right architecture," Bassett said. "When we looked at it, we believed we were the only ones in the industry taking a comprehensive approach to the architecture and not just designing things around the software and hardware you have."
Navy officials were not available for comment at deadline. But in earlier interviews, they stressed NMT's streamlining and cost savings.
NMT is "a big deal for the Navy," Capt. John Pope, a program manager in the Navy's Program Executive Office for C4I, based at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center's Navy Communications Office in San Diego, said last year.
"We've been fielding satellite systems for our ships for 10-plus years, and every time we brought a new band, a new capability, we've brought another antenna to the ship," Pope said. "They've got all these gray domes. With one NMT onboard the ship, we'll replace three legacy systems on the ship with one, with a common hardware."
The NMT program should more than double the data transmission rate to ships, Pope explained, and leave commanders with only one system to train sailors on and one to maintain, down from three systems currently on many vessels. Some 300 vessels are expected to receive NMT gear, the Navy estimated.
Raytheon's approach is built according to a Software Communication Architecture (SCA), a list of rules that tells designers how elements of hardware and software are to operate in harmony.
Bassett said this will allow the radio's hardware and software to be developed and improved independently, greatly reducing the cost of upgrades.
"The software can live on as the hardware underneath it continues to evolve," he said.
In fact, he said, one-third of NMT's software was simply ported from existing Navy communications gear.
"We are the only contractor who can do that, and this means we can continue to have cost savings for DoD," he said.
Originally developed for the Defense Department's Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program, the SCA is being adopted worldwide as a standard for software-defined radios.
Bassett said JTRS was promised to become SCA-compliant, but Raytheon's NMT is the first such program built from the ground up.
Bassett also said the firm was able to deliver a "mature prototype" of the system to the Navy, which means "we can get the system to the war fighter on time."
Raytheon's prototype has a complete technical data package, which means "we can go to production now," he said.
In April, Raytheon said tests had verified that NMT can automatically establish Internet Protocol connections using the Navy's Time Division Multiple Access Interface Processor, increasing bandwidth efficiency and greatly simplifying the way a sailor will establish communications. The firm said NMT would provide troops worldwide with connections through existing Defense Department satellites, as well as the upcoming Wideband Global SATCOM, scheduled to enter service this year, and the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites due in 2010.
NMT may even become a model for the Defense Department's Transformational Satellite (TSAT) system.
"When TSAT comes along, it should be just a simple upgrade. If the technology advances, we can adapt because it's modular," Bennett said.
Bassett said Raytheon's victory with an SCA-based system opens other vistas for the $20 billion defense contractor.
"There's a lot of future business in leveraging NMT," he said. "A lot of different procurement agencies, as well as the Office of the Secretary of Defense, are looking at this."
He said Raytheon's bid had impressed Navy buyers because it could use some existing software, and "that we have a nonproprietary, open architecture, standard interface approach ... that's a different approach in this business."
A Harris spokesman said, "We are understandably disappointed that the Navy did not select us for the Advanced EHF Navy Multiband Terminal program. The Harris team developed a tremendous solution that would have served the Navy very well. During the competition, we demonstrated our SATCOM expertise, and we expect to leverage that experience toward future commercial, military and civil satellite communications opportunities."
He said Harris officials were awaiting a debriefing on why its bid lost.