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Space-based tactical communications, delivered

A Navy satellite program could revolutionize mobile communications in combat zones.

Jan. 3, 2014 - 04:11PM   |  
By MAJ. GEN. DENNIS MORAN (USA, RET)   |   Comments
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It has never been as easy to put space-based capabilities in the hands of the warfighter as it is today. The ability for military units to modernize their radios using a software upgrade for satellite communications is a revolutionary advancement – as the Department of Defense will soon see in connection with the U.S. Navy’s Mobile User Objective Satellite.

MUOS has the potential to deliver quantum leap improvements in tactical communications across the Department of Defense. For that to happen, the DoD must ensure the timely rollout of the secure tactical radio terminals that are needed for users to capitalize on MUOS’ extraordinary new mobile SATCOM capabilities.

MUOS is a complex system that ties orbiting satellites to ground stations and mobile warfighter radio terminals using highly engineered waveform software. Once fully deployed, MUOS will provide a 16-fold increase in the flow of information over current military satellite communications, according to Lockheed Martin, the MUOS system’s prime contractor and lead system integrator. The MUOS system will ease SATCOM congestion and result in faster, more accurate and more timely situational awareness on the ground.

For the military user operating in beyond-line-of-sight environments, this means everything. These users, often in mountainous and urban terrain, will be able to communicate more frequently, more effectively, over longer distances and in new ways – through voice, video and data, almost as if they were using a smart phone.

Though the availability of terminals is a significant challenge for the DoD, it is one that can be addressed if the government continues down its path of adopting a more commercially oriented approach to acquisition of information technology.

Over the past decade, the DoD has made a significant investment in software-defined radios. The goal has always been to save money by instilling a culture of software re-use, with new features and emerging requirements addressed through upgrades rather than new hardware purchases. As a result, the DoD is in excellent position to deliver the capability without delay.

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In the case of MUOS, the DoD will have an important opportunity to apply this principle using currently fielding radios developed for, and in response to, the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS). For example, the U.S. military forces possess more than 30,000 AN/PRC-117G radios that are ready to support the MUOS waveform through a software upgrade.

With such an important new capability like MUOS, however, the job is never completely done. Standards change and missions change, and so it will be with MUOS. The best way for the Department to stay ahead of these changes is by fostering an environment of innovation through full and open competition.

Those powerful forces are already at work, allowing the DoD to accelerate the fielding of new networking capabilities through secure tactical radios operating the new Soldier Radio Waveform and Wideband Networking Waveform. These applications allow the warfighter to communicate through voice, video and data – bringing added situational awareness and a broader operational picture, resulting in greater mission success.

MUOS represents a transformational moment for mobile tactical communications in the DoD, enabling soldiers to access satellite communications more quickly, at a lower cost. As this effort unfolds, competitive acquisition practices will put this technology in their hands quickly and most efficiently.


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