Direct satelline TV technology boosts Bosnia communications
- By Paul Constance
- Mar 04, 1996
The Defense Department last month unveiled plans to deploy a
powerful new communications technology for U.S. troops in Bosnia, and you could find most
of the parts at your local Radio Shack or Circuit City.
Most consumer electronics outlets stock the TV decoder boxes and pizza-size satellite
dishes that the Pentagon will field, with some modifications, to command-and-control units
in Europe and the former Yugoslavia this spring.
For nearly 2 million couch potatoes in the United States, the technology--marketed
under monikers such as DirecTV or PrimeStar--is just a way to get hundreds of channels of
digitized television programming and CD-quality sound.
For the Pentagon, it is a breakthrough in delivering bandwidth-hogging imagery, video
and data quickly and cheaply to troops on the move.
"We have broadcast satellites now in our inventory, but they're typically 9.6- and
2.4-kilobits/sec--very slow data rates," Air Force Col. Ed Mahen, technical assistant
to the director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, said at a recent Pentagon
For years, military communications experts have explored the potential benefits of
these systems, which employ extremely powerful satellites to transmit signals in a
concentrated beam that can be picked up by small dishes.
Last summer, after the Defense Science Board released a report entitled Improved
Application of Intelligence for the Battlefield, the Defense Information Systems
Agency and ARPA looked at how existing commercial systems could aid a U.S. deployment in
The result, known as the Bosnia Command and Control Augmentation System, is an $88
million plan to field 45 tiny terminals, encryption equipment and related communications
devices at sites across Europe and Bosnia. Bandwidth for the system will come entirely
from a leased transponder on a commercial Orion satellite, as well as undersea fiber-optic
links between Europe and the United States leased from MCI Corp.
Over the next few months, DISA also will lease transponders on commercial Intelsat
satellites to create a secure tactical network relying on ultra-high bandwidth links to
very-small-aperture terminals at seven major command-and-control centers in Bosnia and
elsewhere in Europe.
All this will merely complement the massive communications infrastructure already
installed in Bosnia by the Army's 5th Signal Command and other military units [GCN,
Jan. 8, Page 1].
Some Pentagon mavens are describing Operation Joint Endeavor as the most heavily
networked military deployment ever. The insatiable demand for bandwidth is driven by an
explosion in the amount of graphical intelligence available to commanders.
Besides high-resolution pictures beamed down by numerous classified military
satellites, commanders in Bosnia want to view up-to-the-minute intelligence gathered by
the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, which can track hundreds of moving
vehicles in the dark, and Predator, an unmanned aerial vehicle loaded with digital imagery
Instead of drip-feeding the intelligence to commanders in the field over traditional
links, DOD hopes to distribute them, on demand, over the direct broadcast satellites.
"You can think of this direct broadcast approach as having a long-range remote
control," said Paul Kaminski, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and
Users will place an on-line request for an image file over ordinary low-bandwidth data
links, "and it will be deployed forward at high bandwidth to the theater," he
DISA officials said they are evaluating proposals for direct broadcast terminals and
other equipment under an expedited acquisition schedule. Hughes Space and Communications
Co., which manufactures the satellites and licenses the technology for DirecTV, seems
poised to win some work.
DISA officials said they intend to have most of the system in place by April.