Comm catches up with units in the field

Satellite technology lets commanders communicate on the move

IN TOUCH: The Army last year tested C2OTM, which uses Ku-band satellite communications, on a tracked, armored vehicle.

The speed with which military forces conduct operations in Iraq revealed a gap in command and control: Units essentially were outrunning their communications capabilities. Lower-level commanders were unable to access real-time data while on the move.

When word got back to the Joint Systems Integration Command (JSIC), a unit of the Joint Forces Command in Suffolk, Va., a team of analysts and engineers set out to find technologies that could plug that gap. The result was Command and Control On the Move (C2OTM), a program based on commercial technology that combines Ku-band satellite communications with specialized waveforms and antennas to let vehicles lock onto a satellite signal while traveling at speeds of up to 60 mph.

Army V Corps, headquartered in Heidelberg, Germany, tested a C2OTM prototype, and the success of the program has led program officials to consider offering C2OTM to other Army programs.

'What we heard from the field in Iraq was that commanders had to pause their operations to collect data,' said Maj. Aaron Andrews, the project manager at JSIC.

A year ago, the command authorized a proof of concept for a system that could provide commanders with a broadband connection to receive voice, data and video while on the go.

'We looked for technology that was readily available,' said Alfred Knight, JSIC's C2OTM contract lead. 'We approached selected vendors and pulled their COTS technologies into the program. Our engineers put it all together.'

V Corps last August tested a suitcase-sized mobile terminal installed in an M4 command and control vehicle'a tracked, armored vehicle designed to provide an automated tactical command post for mobile armored operations. The terminal inside the M4 was ruggedized for the warfighting environment and equipped with a more advanced antenna.

'The commander deemed these tests a success,' Knight said.

The key technologies that comprise C2OTM are the Ku-band spread spectrum waveform and a small but sophisticated antenna, both of which let the terminal lock onto the satellite signal while moving.

The Ku band'a portion of the microwave range of frequencies ranging from 12 to 18 GHz'provides increased transmission rates of up to 10 Mbps. C2OTM's 'magic,' as Knight termed it, is the Ku-band spread spectrum waveform.

'This allows you to access communications satellites at high energy and speed with a small aperture antenna of less than 0.5 meters without causing interference with other satellite communications,' Knight said.

'The spread spectrum basically saturates the entire transponder so that it doesn't interfere with adjacent transponders,' said David Helfgott, CEO of Americom Government Services in McLean, Va., a joint developer of the spread spectrum waveform along with ViaSat Inc. of Carlsbad, Calif.

'Older systems used a small channel within the transponder,' Helfgott said. 'It's hard to get performance out of that type of system.'

The small, low-profile, auto-point antenna developed by L3 Titan Corp. of San Diego locks onto the satellite signal and lets the terminal continue to download data as the vehicle moves across the landscape.

'The net effect is the ability to send and receive at true broadband rates while moving quickly,' said Helfgott. 'Commanders at the platoon level will also be able to download very high-resolution graphics and perform Blue Force Tracking, both of which require a lot of bandwidth.'

C2OTM gives users the ability to communicate securely from outside the vehicle as well. A SecNet-11 wireless bridge from Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., provides an 802.11b Type 1 secure wireless link to handheld devices. Information security is assured through AltaSec KG-250 encryption from ViaSat Inc.

'What we are doing with mobile networking is changing the battlefield paradigm,' said Knight. 'Commanders can take the fight to the enemy without having to stop to gather intelligence. They can get instantaneous intelligence updates and base decisions on the most relevant and current information.'

JSIC officials expect C2OTM to be fielded in Iraq in the near future. AGS and ViaSat plan to offer the capabilities through their General Services Administration Federal Supply Service schedules later this year.

Andrews said he believes programs of record will pick up the system. One such candidate, according to Andrews, is A2C2S, the Army Airborne Command and Control System. A2C2S is a helicopter-based system designed to push situational awareness to the lowest command levels by relaying real-time data while on the move.

About the Author

Peter Buxbaum is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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