by Jim Sprungle and John R. Lane
The U.S. Army is currently deploying its fourth generation Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) satellite communications terminals to Warfighters supporting the global War on Terror (GWOT). The SIPR/NIPR Access Point (SNAP) terminals are Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSATs) using commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment to provide secure beyond line of sight (BLOS) communications to battalions and below.
Until recently, SIPR was only available at the brigade and above level and has been moving downward in the force structure during recent years through technology advances. This need to provide reliable secure BLOS communications to even smaller maneuver units has been driven by the need for smaller highly equipped units operating in very remote locations. No where is this more evident than in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan. The SNAP VSAT is highly transportable and sets up quickly to provide multi-megabit connectivity to provide a wide array of broadband services via NIPR and SIPR including access to encrypted voice, video and imagery data. The capability of warfighter access to both NIPR and SIPR using a single shared satellite carrier provides robust throughput while conserving bandwidth resources, which are very costly using the commercial satellite fleet. Now lets examine some of the history regarding SATCOM terminal advances over the recent years.
As early as 1996, the Commercial SATCOM Terminal Program (CSTP) began providing DoD and other Government users with access to a full spectrum of commercially available SATCOM services and products such as fixed, deployable, VSAT and mobile terminals. This rapid acquisition program is intended to augment current and emerging SATCOM needs with cost-effective commercial solutions. Depending on customer needs, terminals are appropriately sized for data transmission requirements and network interoperability. Terminals can be delivered and installed at worldwide locations and fielding support can include training, spares as well as operation, maintenance, and logistics support services as required. The CSTP team has successfully fielded commercial SATCOM terminals around the globe including Asia, Europe, and Southwest Asia.
The first widely used commercial terminal fielded by CSTP was the Deployable Ku-Band Earth Terminal (DKET). More than 75 of these systems are operating around the world and provide intra-theater and reach back connectivity for U.S. CENTCOMs satellite network. These terminals provide up to 80 Mbps of throughput using traditional single channel per carrier (SCPC) technology, they are fairly large and therefore used for strategic communication links, or as hubs, for the SNAPs and other VSATs. With these larger systems, each link had to be sized to accommodate the potential maximum throughput needed and, thus, not very bandwidth efficient. A more highly deployable and bandwidth efficient solution was needed.
As a result of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), the Army identified a need for a BLOS communication system capable of providing increased throughput for battalions deployed over a more widely dispersed geographical grid than was possible with the Mobile Subscriber Equipment (MSE) and other traditional Army communications systems. A new COTS system based on TDMA was developed and integrated using portable 1.5 meter and 2.4 meter flyaway antennas. The Interim Ku-Band Satellite System (IKSS) was designed as a battalion enabler, improving network connectivity from the brigade down to the battalion. The 3/2 Stryker BCT took this system into Iraq in 2003. It received high marks for improved bandwidth.
The next step in the Armys digital transformation came in 2004 with the design of the Satellite Transportable Terminals (STT) for the 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) for use in the Joint Network Node (JNN) Network, now known as the Warfighter Information Network Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 1. The STT is a trailerized 2.4M Ku-band (soon to be upgraded to Ka-band) satellite terminal with on-board Environmental Control Units (ECUs) and generator, designed to be a towed Highly Mobile Multi-Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV). JNN provides voice-over-IP and dynamic IP technologies and systems to provide direct reach back capabilities to higher command and/or strategic locations using FDMA and TDMA technology. The STT can provide up to 6 Mbps FDMA satellite communications in addition to the 3-5 Mbps TDMA shared carrier. Four transit cases support the user interfaces into red and black voice networks, network and management service components, and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phones with access to both NIPR and SIPR. Since 2005, all Army divisions have been and/or are scheduled to be outfitted with JNN, with over 900 STT fielded to date.
Small forward operating units require more highly mobile solutions than JNNs vehicular based equipment. As a result, CSTP has fielded small quantities of VSATs that provide SIPR and NIPR access to Army users in OEF and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). These transit cased VSATS included SIPR Point of Presence (SPOP), Provisional Reconstruction Team (PRT) and Military Transition Team (MITT) terminals.
The SIPR/NIPR Access Point (SNAP) VSAT is the first transportable satellite terminal designed for operation over DoDs Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) satellites in addition to Ku-band operation on commercial satellites. In response to this requirement for highly portable and interoperable tactical communications, TeleCommunication Systems, Inc. (TCS) of Annapolis, Maryland, has designed and manufactured the Swiftlink SNAP (SIPR/NIPR Access Point) Suite of deployable satellite communication products. SNAP is derived from the Companys highly-acclaimed Swiftlink family of deployable communications products that have been field proven special operations community over several years. The Swiftlink SNAP Suite provides the robust scalability and unparalleled flexibility necessary to bring the latest state-of-art technology to Warfighters.
The Swiftlink SNAP suite provides interoperability among three different SATCOM terminals utilizing three different frequency bands Ku-, Ka- and X-band and three interchangeable baseband solutions to provide the Warfighter with compact, lightweight, highly flexible NIPR/SIPR communications packages while still providing a common logistics tail. The SNAP products were designed to have the maximum ability for interoperability with Army and Joint users in any existing or planned networks. The Swiftlink SNAP suite maximizes network access with five interchangeable modem solutions to address custom needs. The SNAP terminals were designed to accommodate a range of commercial modems including Viasat S2 modems uses by PM WIN-T Increment 1, iDirect Infinity modems used by the Special Operations Forces (SOF) community and prewired for NCW modems or any future commercially available modem. Operating in point-to-point, hub and spoke, and full mesh configurations, the Swiftlink SNAP suite supports communications objectives ranging from special operations to traditional Warfighter maneuvers.
The TCS SwiftLink SNAP systems provide multimedia communications capabilities for encrypted voice, video and imagery data. TCS SwiftLink products are highly transportable and ruggedized, with a graphical user interface that greatly simplifies the set-up and operation of the system. The modularity and plug and play interfaces between all RF and baseband configurations inherent in the SwiftLink provide a tailored, and cost effective, solution for every mission.
The Swiftlink SNAPs highly flexible module design offers 64 unique configurations in a compact, lightweight, and user-friendly system tailored to satisfy that users unique requirements.
Our SwiftLink SNAP solution is the newest and most capable VSAT deployable system available to the Department of Defense, said Michael Bristol, senior vice president of government solutions for TCS. To successfully work with, train and advise the Allied security forces, it is critical that our U.S. troops have the technology and support necessary for secure and reliable communications, regardless of their technology expertise. Our VSATs are designed to enable General Purpose Users to quickly set up and access broadband satellite services for mission-sensitive communications. There is no need for highly trained SATCOM users to operate our SNAP solution in todays Army.
TCS is well positioned to support the Armys Logistics requirements for terminals currently fielded in CONUS, Iraq, and Afghanistan. SNAP terminals have robust logistics support packages to include Contractor Field Service Representatives (CFSRs), onsite training classes, spares and online training sessions. In addition, each SNAP terminal is fielded with RF spare parts and a Forward Deployed Depot Spares package is provided for a network of terminals. TCS has established an in-theatre depot center with SNAP technicians and engineers stationed at Camp Victory, Iraq, to provide regional repair and technical support.
TCS has conducted numerous classroom training sessions in both CONUS and OCONUS locations over the last 12 months. To augment new equipment training, TCS has developed an interactive Web Based Training (WBT) website that allows the military access to training sessions for product refresher or new user training. The WBT allows the military to attend a training session in remote areas without traveling to a formal classroom, or waiting for a formal instructor-led classroom session. The WBT provides a self-paced, interactive, objective-based way to teach the students about the system. Further stimulus is that the WBT uses both graphics and flash animations to provide a system overview, equipment descriptions, and details on installation, operation, troubleshooting and maintenance of the system.
About the company
TCS is delivering SNAP systems at a robust pace at its 45,000 square foot manufacturing center in Tampa, Florida. The SNAP Program has a contract potential of up to 1,500 terminals and 30 Field Service Representatives. TCS has also implemented manufacturing surge capacity and 24 hour built to print service for urgent delivery schedules. Since 1987, TCS has produced wireless data communications technology solutions that require proven high levels of reliability. TCS provides secure deployable communication systems, wireless and VoIP E911 network-based services, engineered satellite-based services and commercial location applications using the precise location of a wireless device. TCS Swiftlink products are designed for highly reliable, on-the-move and on-the-quick halt secure communications in some of the worlds most hostile and remote locations.
About the authors
Jim Sprungle is the Senior Director, TCS, and he attended the U.S. Naval Academy and served as a Communications Officer in the Surface Navy for six years. After leaving active duty, Mr. Sprungle worked for Verizon Communications for three years designing network infrastructures. For the last eight years, Mr. Sprungle has worked at TeleCommunication Systems (TCS) as Senior Director of Government Programs and Global Logistics.
John R. Lane has worked in SATCOM for the Army since 1992 and he is currently the Project Leader of the Commercial SATCOM Terminal Program manager, with a team of 12 professionals. He has 25 years of experience in military communications. Prior to joining the government in 1989, John worked as a Senior Engineer with Computer Science Corporation for six years, where he was a consultant on various military communications programs.