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PM DCATS lays out its near-term evolution for comm networks

Project Manager for Defense Communications and Army Transmission Systems

Mar. 24, 2014 - 05:05PM   |  
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COL Clyde Richards: DCATS is modernizing legacy terminals to support X and Ka-band capacity for the Wideband Global SATCOM constellation.
COL Clyde Richards: DCATS is modernizing legacy terminals to support X and Ka-band capacity for the Wideband Global SATCOM constellation. ()
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Army PEO Enterprise Information Systems’ Project Manager, Defense Communications and Army Transmission Systems (DCATS) acquires, implements and sustains strategic satellite and terrestrial communication systems (as opposed to tactical satellite systems operated by PEO Command, Control, Communications-Tactical). PM DCATS manages six major programs for more than 45 customer organizations with an annual budget authority of more than $500 million.

Its projects range from worldwide strategic satellite communications and wideband control systems, long-haul terrestrial microwave and fiber optic communications systems, to technical control facilities, combat service support communications systems, critical power infrastructure and combat vehicle intercom systems.

PM DCATS COL Clyde Richards spoke to C4ISR & Networks Editor Barry Rosenberg about satellite communications, very-small-aperture terminals (VSATs) and strategic communications systems. Following are edited excerpts.

With support of the warfighter a given, what’s at the top of your to-do list?

RICHARDS: The environment is changing, and we are always threatened by potential cuts in the budget. I have a pretty big portfolio, and we execute almost $500 million a year and manage over 130 projects. As the environment is changing, we are trying to do more with less.

We have the funding constraints and then we also have the other constraints that are tied to the funding where we can’t hire people. So we are still expected to execute our mission set while not being able to backfill our vacancies as people leave the organization. Juggling all the balls with reduced funding is an everyday challenge.

PM DCATS has a variety of major programs, both strategic and tactical. Can you wrangle all those moving parts for me and tell me how they all fit together?

RICHARD: I manage a portfolio of systems. At the heart of what we do — our real core competency and the definition of DCATS — is long-haul communications. We are sort of like AT&T long distance for the Army. So we actually put in infrastructure and provide services to include long-haul fiber, microwave solutions, MPLS (IP-based multi-label protocol switching) and routers, and tech control facilities on the terrestrial side, to earth terminals and very-small-aperture terminals for major satellite systems. We stand up the backbone infrastructure that supports those systems.

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How does the backbone that you provide differ from what DISA provides, for example?

RICHARDS: DISA has more of a responsibility from an acquisition standpoint, but they also have responsibility for operations. So they are responsible for not only building out the enterprise infrastructure but also the operation of it. They are one of our primary customers. So the terminals that we put in, in some cases, are DISA terminals.

Back to the satellite side, the only thing I did not mention that is important is that we are also responsible for the control systems for the Wideband Global Satellite communications constellation.

The new WGS satellites.

RICHARDS: That is right. So for the WGS satellites, we support that program. The Army is responsible for the wideband control systems. There are 21 different subsystems and platforms in the segment that interact with the payload on those satellites. We are responsible for [integrating] the systems into the operation centers that control those payloads.

PM DCATS has responsibility for VSATs, as does PM WIN-T, which is responsible for satellite communications at PEO C3T. What’s the difference between what your VSATs and theirs do?

RICHARDS: The difference is WIN-T is responsible for the tactical solutions for SATCOM. We are strategic … the strategic long-haul cradle-to-grave SATCOM. Part of what we do is we put the infrastructure in. We actually dig, put stuff in the ground, and do the civil work and site prep. Then we install the terminals and implement the systems.

WIN-T has fielded systems. They procure solutions and then field them to the units. WIN-T systems are the ones that you find at tactical operations centers. It is about communicating in the tactical battlespace. Our systems are the big pipes that connect to some of the systems that are reaching back to CONUS. So we have the long-haul pipes that have all types of communications that are transmitted over those pipes.

How will the Joint Information Environment and enterprise architecture affect those systems?

(Page 3 of 3)

RICHARDS: We certainly are working within JIE and ensuring that the infrastructure and systems that we are developing and putting out there are going to be compliant with JIE. But in terms of DCATS evolving, it is hard to tell because a lot of work that we do is outside of our baseline. Half of the work we do is from customers, so we support the Army, the other services and other agencies. With the environment changing, what I envision is a number of customers reducing or redeploying a number of the systems that we support. So the footprint of our customer base will probably reduce.

The base programs that we currently have are pretty stable, and we support the Army’s [efforts in] network modernization [as it relates to] building capacity. So we are implementing terrestrial systems as well as SATCOM systems that fit into that model.

How do you think what you do will evolve, say, as the Army collapses its networks behind DISA in order to build regional security stacks and raise the bandwidth to the posts, camps and stations?

RICHARDS: A lot of that, DISA is going to manage. We are working and partnering with them, as well. And as I mentioned, they are one of our primary customers. So some of that work we will be doing for them or on their behalf. Once the infrastructure is in, DISA will really have the responsibility for those systems. From a DCATS standpoint, I see a lot of that moving toward DISA.

For the past 20 years or so, for example, we have put a lot of the infrastructure in Korea, Okinawa, in the Pacific, as well as in Southwest Asia. But now the movement toward network modernization means that DISA [will eventually] manage those networks. So I would envision eventually, if everything moves in that direction, DISA will take that over.

What are the RFIs and RFPs you plan to issue in the next year or two?

RICHARDS: With the long-haul communications on the satellite side, there are a number of different efforts over the course of the next couple years, just in line with the work that we are currently performing. On the terrestrial side with network modernization, we have the lead for MPLS implementation in Korea, and it extends throughout the Pacific. There is a lot of tech control facility work, as well as fiber and microwave work that we are doing.

On the SATCOM side, our biggest effort is our modernization enterprise terminal program. We are enhancing and replacing the legacy terminals and systems that are out there. The legacy systems and terminals support the DSCS (Defense Satellite Communications System) constellation. As everything moves toward WGS, we are implementing those terminals that have X and Ka-band capability to tie into WGS. So that is really our flagship program.

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