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MILSATCOM Systems Wing
by Hartley Lesser, Editorial Director, SatNews Publishers

Your executive team has just informed you of your department’s mission…

… acquire and develop military space systems. These systems include GPS, military satellite communications, defense meteorological satellites, space launch and range systems, satellite control network, space based infrared systems, intercontinental ballistic missile systems and space situational awareness capabilities …

After you pick yourself up from the floor, remove the paper bag from enveloping your nose and mouth to steady your breathing, and as you slow your heart rate down, you quickly sit down before you fall over once again...

“Don’t worry,” you’re told. “You’ll have more than US$60 billion in contracts to work on with an annual operating budget of US$10 billion and, heck, you’re going to be able to direct more than 6,800 employees!”

A tall order? You think?

How about one massive effort? It certainly is, and one that ensures the safety of your country, your warfighters, and your allies. This is the mission of the Space and Missile Systems Center… nothing less. One element… just one element within this organization is the U.S. Air Force’s Military Satellite Communications Systems Wing, otherwise known as MCSW. To have National Objectives as your goal, where the order is to sustain space-enabled, global communications capabilities requires a force of approximately 162 military, 88 civilians, 340 Federally Funded Research Corporation contractors, and 132 Systems Engineering Technical Assistance contractors, is Herculean, and MCSW is definitely able to handle the challenge.

MCSW was established in August of 2006 and is located at the Los Angeles Air Force Base (LA AFB) in El Segundo, California. They also have an operations located in Alexandria, Virginia and Colorado Springs, Colorado. All terminal programs are executed by the Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom AFB , Massachusetts and the Space Logistics Group in Colorado Springs, Colorado maintains the MILSATCOM terminals.

Within MCSW, there are five Groups, and one squadron and four Wing staff agencies. At MCSW, these folks deliver three primary Satellite Communications (SATCOM) product lines. These include the Protected Communications Group, the Wideband Communication Group and the Transformational Satellite Communications System (TSAT).

The Protected Communications Group provides the Department of Defense (DoD) global, secure, protected, jam-resistant communications for high priority military ground, sea and air assets as well as operations and sustainment support to on-orbit Milstar constellation. They develop and acquire the AEHF (Advanced Extremely High Frequency) and EPS (Enhanced Polar System) programs and users can communicate critical information, without fear of jamming or adverse weather affecting their “discussions”.

Budgets? Well, we’re looking at US$6.7B to execute the AEHF program and US$1.2B to execute the EPS program. Mix in the equipment and/or terminals required for the DoD protected communication systems in the currently operational Milstar Command Post Terminal (CPT) and the US$3.2B to execute the Family of Advanced Beyond-Line-of-Sight terminals (FAB-T) development programs.

Think it’s easy to simply determine the correct course of action for a single element within the Protected Communications Group? Think again… take terminals, for example. Terminals come in various forms—but, which one to use, which one to replace, which one to update is no quick decision. Fortunately, AEHF can talk to MILSTAR via crosslinks and communicate with legacy MILSTAR terminals. The AEHF ground system commands both constellations, meaning users can leverage the AEHF spacecraft’s new waveforms and the legacy waveforms of the Milstar program.

Milstar is a family of satellites providing low data rate (LDR) capabilities, originally intended as a strategic system. Milstar Block 1 ensured secure voice comm, Block 2 found warfighters able to send large data files via satellite for the first time. And the need to send more data, even more quickly and securely, is the reason for AEHF satellites. Milstar has proven its efficacy time and time again.

One of their most recent successes was the launch of the first Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) satellite into space. This occurred last October 10th aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V booster and the satellite is one of many that will eventually replace the Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS), the SATCOM backbone for the last 20 years or so. This group is responsible for providing worldwide, high-volume, voice and data comms to warfighters. The Group works with a US$1.9B budget for the WGS system.

TSAT is the DoD’s future MILSATCOM system. Designed to provide new services and support new mission areas, TSAT is an evolution of the protected and wideband Military Satellite Communications (MILSATCOM) Systems. It will provide a significant increase in protected communications over current systems, i.e., AEHF and Milstar, and will allow services to transition off commercial and other systems, which are vulnerable to jamming or interception. TSAT will support Air and Space Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (AISR / SISR) assets; serving as a relay and providing increased situational awareness and targeting information to the warfighter. It will provide a “comm-on-the-move” capability to small mobile terminals—such as HUMVEEs operating in Iraq—with small antennas about the size of satellite TV dish. New technologies such as advanced laser communications, RF waveforms and Internet-like packet switching, as well as its greatly expanded capability and connectivity are what make this system transformational. TSAT’s use of this technology and Internet Protocols will allow the warfighter to use bandwidth on a dynamic, as-needed basis.

Another benefit of TSAT can best be defined using this illustration… a simple photo using today’s Milstar takes about two minutes for the transfer… the same operation using an AEHF satellite would take about 23 seconds…the same operation using a TSAT satellite would require less than one second! Furthermore, this would be done without fear of jamming by enemy forces. TSAT will be a constellation of five satellites with a worldwide capacity of 36.0 Gbps for ground, air and space users and is estimated to cost US$24.0B.

This squadron manages the Command and Control System-Consolidated (CCS-C), the versatile ground system responsible for operating all MILSATCOM satellites. Already supporting the on-orbit Milstar, DSCS, and WGS constellations, CCS-C will ultimately be in charge of more than 26 military communications satellites across five families: DSCS, Milstar, WGS, AEHF, and TSAT. Though it is the smallest acquisition unit within the Wing, the squadron’s responsibilities literally stretch across every other program in MCSW. Based largely on commercial-off-the-shelf hardware and software, CCS-C delivers maximum bang for the buck and has become known as “the backbone of MILSATCOM.”

The Ground Multi-band Terminal (GMT), the High Data Rate—Radio Frequency (HDR-RF) ground terminal (an upgrade to the GMT), and the FAB-T Increment 2 terminals all support the WGS satellites and its wideband capabilities. The GMT is a tactical SATCOM ground terminal supporting X, C, Ku and military Ka-band ops. These terminals use the DSCS, WGS and other, commercial comsats. They provide a dual hub capability and can handle increasing bandwidth needs for deployed U.S. Air Force units. GMTs are compatible with tactical satellite communications (SATCOM) terminals and can withstand repeated tactical deployments throughout the world.

The HDR-RF is an upgrade to the GMT and provides a high data rate SATCOM that’s needed to support the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) community with High Bandwidth High Throughput (HBHT) capabilities. These terminals are interoperable with FAB-T Inc 2 and support a full array of operations, from disaster relief to full scale theater war.

FAB-T is an acquisition program that provides Beyond-Line-Of-Sight (BLOS) SATCOM terminals possessing open architecture. They are able to deliver multi-mission capable, ground-based and aircraft qualified SATCOM terminals.

The Global Broadcast Service (GBS) is another program under MCSW. Operating with a budget of US$600M, GBS operates as a one-way, wideband transmission service capable of supporting timely delivery of classified and unclassified data and information products for mission support and theater information transfer.

Los Angeles Air Force Base is where MCSW is headquartered, the only active duty base in the Los Angeles area. This is also the home of the 61st Air Base Wing and SMC, of which MCSW is part. SMC is a subordinate unit of the Air Force Space Command, located at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado. We should all appreciate the freedoms we enjoy, in part due to the thoroughness, hard work and technologies brought to bear upon the world stage by MCSW and by SMC.