Home >> July 2008 Edition >> INCOMING: COTM

by Hartley Lesser

Communications On-the-Move (COTM) is an enabler. The technology allows those who protect, defend, and serve to be in constant communication with one another, with command structures, and support facilities, regardless of location. COTM affords “no-matter-where” communications for the warfighter. As part of this issue’s coverage, COTM is brought to the forefront. A number of subject-matter experts were queried regarding their analysis and expectations of COTM.

I asked Eric Béranger, CEO Astrium Services, where he sees the COTM market going this year, as well as where he believes the growth areas will be experienced. “We have been supplying COTM solutions for a number of years, particularly with part of the X-band spectrum dedicated to mobile users. With Skynet 5, we now have very high power X-band with multiple shapeable and steerable spot beams. These provide high gain that can provide high data rates services to small, disadvantaged terminals. Therefore, we see COTM expanding further into the FSS bands as the terminals and mobile networking techniques become available to match the increased satellite performance.

As far as what issues Astrium Services might have to confront, and how such “opportunities” will be addressed, Eric answered, “Astrium Services has built significant heritage in Aero and Naval COTM solutions based on FSS solutions. As a specialist operator, we also have experience of spread spectrum techniques that can be a requirement for many COTM applications, particularly UAVs. UAVs are a growing part of the COTM market. Our current communications solutions have given us a valuable insight into the complete UAV system parameters. Our principal challenge is the weight of the RF suite and size, weight and profile of the antenna on the mobile platform.

In addition, when it comes to immediate plans for additional programs and projects within the COTM arena, the CEO stated, “Astrium Services has a significant R&D budget, and we are involved in a number of ongoing development programs. Our focus is on developing the market through terminal and networking technologies.”

Significant issues facing COTM for military and government organization over the next five years… “For Aero applications, antenna size and weight are critical. For small land mobile terminals, particularly on vehicles, form factor is another critical issue. Once we’ve established a low profile, bandwidth efficient FSS antenna, we anticipate a marked increase in demand as communications services via satellite provide a coherent and ubiquitous platform for applications.”

Newpoint Technologies’ President Wally Martland voiced his opinions regarding the market in this manner, “Short term, we expect to see most of the growth from the US Army, Navy and the Marines. The ongoing “War on Terror” and the Army’s transformation to a lighter and leaner force has placed more emphasis on providing the war fighter with the most up to date information available in conjunction with complete situational awareness. We expect to see more efforts by the Army similar to the MET Program, which is to modernize the existing COTM infrastructure, and also provide additional terminals to support the forces.

“Additionally, the Navy and Marines have also recently started a modernization effort. We anticipate COTM will be a very important aspect of this effort, and we expect to see it in increased activity by these two organizations, although we have not directly started to work with them as of this writing. Overall, COTM is a most important and critical requirement for the US military, if it is to achieve it’s goal of net centric warfare and pushing the situational awareness information down to the war fighters.

“Outside our own forces, we are also noting much more activity internationally with NATO, the United Nations, and other NATO countries who are following the lead of the United States. As more of the peacekeeping responsibilities in Iraq and Afghanistan move from the US to these organizations, COTM solutions will become a critical part of their efforts.“

I asked Mr. Martland what issues he feels his company will have to confront, and how such issues will be addressed?”

“Newpoint has been providing solutions for managing remote and transportable terminals to commercial and civilian organizations for many years. Our COTS solutions are already proven in providing “lights out” operation of these terminals in this environment. One of the unique challenges in applying these products to the military COTM marketplace has been managing the treatment of secure and unsecured data, essentially managing the handling of the data on the Black and Red networks, which could, potentially, be carried on the same COTM Terminal. We are fortunate that Scott Herrick recently joined us, having retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force. Scott has extensive experience in this area. Our parent company, ISI, also has expertise that has helped us find a path to solve this problem.

“Most of these terminals are awarded to the large prime contractors. As part of the solution, they have to provide the remote management of the terminals. Often times, these companies elect to build these solutions out on their own. The renewed emphasis on COTS by all of the organizations has helped. However, we are still working hard to get our solutions in front of these primes to demonstrate that we have a viable COTS alternative. This alternative can dramatically reduce the cost of initial deployment of the COTM terminals as well as reduce the long-term sustainment costs of maintaining these terminals. This is managed by providing fully upgradeable software that is user maintainable. As this is our livelihood, we really have to be lean and innovative to stay competitive and remain ahead of the trends. We are continuously assessing the landscape for new ideas and capabilities, to ensure our products will always be based upon the latest technologies available.”

When queried as to whether Newpoint Technologies has any immediate plans for additional programs or projects within the COTM arenas, Mr. Martland answered, “Newpoint has a number of R&D efforts underway that will significantly enhance our offerings to the COTM marketplace. The first is a service based management system, which will sit on top of our core Compass management platform. This will allow the operators at the COTM Network Operations Center (NOC) to manage all of the services being carried out via the network. It will allow them to view from source to destination all the equipment associated with the delivery of a particular service. In the event of a failure of any equipment in the network, they can see the affected services. This will allow them to re-assign resources on the network, and enable them to restore the high priority services, immediately based upon the available resources.

“Combined with this platform is a profile manager, which will associate a terminal configuration database for each of the services that use the network. In this manner, they will only have to select the source and destination terminals and then apply the profile to bring the service online when scheduled to come up. Operators can also save new profiles or change existing profiles for each service as conditions dictate.

“As far as significant issues facing COTM over the next five years or so, Newpoint is seeing more and more emphasis on the ‘lights out’ operation of these terminals. As they are deployed into a particular area of operation, the terminal itself can be brought online and managed by technicians who are located safely away from any danger. This is also the case for military terminals, as well as terminals being deployed to support disaster relief organizations.”

Newpoint’s President continued, “In order to achieve this objective, we have to look beyond managing the satellite RF Equipment, but we also have to look at managing the UPS, generator, and power subsystems, the HVAC systems, and everything else a technician on site would be monitoring that could affect the operational capability of the terminal. This includes automating many of the routine tasks an operator would take on, such as accounting for rain fade and other weather conditions, and also providing orderly shutdown of the terminal when the generator is out of gas and the UPS is running low. This automation is essential to the operation of the terminal and is required for truly ‘lights out’ operation.

“Technology refresh could also become an important factor, as the rate of change in technology and capability continue to increase. As we have already seen and experienced over the last decade, the days of taking 10-years to field a system, then have it in operation for another 10-15-years, is no longer in the equation. Systems fielded today could well be obsolete in five years. This is what makes COTS solutions attractive, and one of the ‘checkboxes’ we always look at is how to provide technology refresh efficiently and cost effectively. The short answer is that you really need to map out a means to upgrade your system during the initial design phase.”

Tom Badders, the Director of Wireless Networking for Telos Corporation, stated that COTM is typically being used in military deployed environments, and will continue to be used in such a manner. He says the growth will continue to be driven by military and first responder organizational needs, with “growth including interoperability between military and civil/first responders.”

As far as the primary issues that will need to be confronted, Mr. Badders believes the “primary issue to a successful COTM deployment is having a complete understanding of customers requirements as well as a solid concept of operations. Plus, companies must educate the customer on the capabilities the industry has to offer. There are many advanced technologies available today that are just not being used. Integrating the various technologies into a workable system, tailored to meet the customers communications needs, is the key to ensuring a successful mission.

According to Tom, Telos Corporation is pursuing opportunities with multiple potential customers in the deployed military environs and military/civil defense organizations. “However, there are still many legacy systems fielded and new systems being fielded that are not compatible across services.

The issues facing COTM will be related to ensuring that components built into the system meet the needs of as many potential joint operations as possible. Integrators such as Telos have the capability to combine many technologies into a single, mobile, IP-based, interoperable on-the-move communications system. Matching this capability with the needs of the customer and educating the customer on what can be done will continue to be the challenge.”

Ric VanderMeulen, the Vice President and General Manager for ViaSat’s Government Satcom division, believes there will continue to be a great deal of experimentation within the Mil-COTM environs, as well as some limited development targeted to the use of existing satellites in addition to the new, dedicated satellite systems.

“The technology for broadband COTM is available, to be sure. Operational networks are serving the VIP Special Air Mission (VIPSAM) fleet of aircraft, new Stryker deployment, as well as a C-130 Gunship deployment by USCENTCOM. Both the VIPSAM and Stryker are using the equipment we built for Boeing’s Connexion and the C-130 Gunship is using our commercial ArcLight network. The experimentation and limited development efforts include PM WIN-T and PM MBCOTM. These groups are encouraging the development of alternatives.”

The military envisions the future Mil-COTM market to be served by the TSAT satellites—the systems using existing or commercial satellites have not been considered the main event.

Mr. VanderMeulen believes the primary COTM market growth will actually on be on the commercial side. “We are seeing steady growth in both business jets and maritime market segments. These segments have been served by L-band (Mobile Satellite Services), but we are noting growth and transition to Ku-band services, such as our ArcLight system, which offers greater throughputs at lower equipment and operational costs.

“The growth will be in business jets, maritime (yachts, shipping, etc.), and eventually ground applications. Perhaps with further development and expansion of service areas on the commercial side, the military will be able to leverage such technologies for their own use.”

When it comes to the issues facing COTM-involved business, Ric says, “The issues are neithter technical or regulatory. The technology is proven and the Ku-band FSS (Fixed Satellite Services) has been licensed to provide COTM services. The issues that do exist include market acceptance and coverage areas. The L-band MSS satellite providers have achieved two or more decades of market acceptance, and they have coverage of most of the earth’s surface including land and ocean coverage.

“The Ku-band FSS satellite services, such as ArcLight, offer greatly improved throughput (speed and capacity) at much lower price points. Their presence in the marketplace is growing, as well as the coverage areas available to use them. Current coverage areas include the U.S., Caribbean, North Atlantic, Europe, and Mediterranean, with further expansion planned for this year.

“The issues of market acceptance and coverage area will be addressed through continued acceptance of the Ku-band service offering, similar to the further penetration (acceptance) of mobile cellular that then created further investment in coverage area. We have plans to expand the COTM market segments in both the commercial and military markets. We have significant backlog for programs serving commercial business jets, maritime yachts and shipping, and military transports. We see direct growth within these market segments and into adjacent market segments.”

Inquiring about the issues to be faced ahead, ViaSat’s Government Satcom Vice President stated, “The significant issues facing the military organizations include ‘organic’ versus ‘commercial’ development, understanding COTM versus COTP (coms-on-the-pause, or portable satcom) utility, and dealing with the lack of available satellite capacity.

“Due to the newness of the technology, the military is using commercial capacity, and developing its own organic capability. VIPSAM, Stryker, and the C-130 Gunship efforts are all examples of adapting and employing commercial technology to a military need. PM WIN-T and TSAT are examples of organic development to achieve the same fundamental utility. Small antenna terminals providing COTM consume more satellite resources than large antenna terminals providing COTP. There is an architectural tradeoff between COTM versus COTP with local area coverage.

“The military will need to determine the value of actually operating on the move, versus operation from a deployed forward location. A simple analogy is the time required for a fire department to travel to a fire, versus the time the fire department spends at the fire location.”

Ric closed by adding, “Capacity for the beyond line-of-site mission (i.e., satellite) continues to be greater than the available capacity. During the next five years, the deployment of UAVs and other types of ISR platforms will continue to drive the demand for this capacity. Therefore, the need to provide capacity for the COTM mission will contend with the need for ISR and other communication platforms on a priority basis.”

My thanks to the subject-matter experts for their insights into the critical COTM environment—Hartley Lesser, Editorial Director