Home >> July 2008 Edition >> COMMAND CENTER: Dave Helfgott
President and CEO, DataPath Inc.

DataPath Inc. is well known for establishing and maintaining communications anywhere in our globe, delivering total network control, even in the most extreme conditions and under the most urgent time frames. With their wholly-owned subsidiary, SWE-DISH, DataPath creates satellite and wireless based network solutions and mobile satellite communications systems that solve communications challenges. Based in Duluth, Georgia, U.S.A., the company operates via dozens of offices, distributor locations and field support bases around the world.

As the President and CEO of the company, Mr. David Helfgott, a 20 year vet of the satellite industry, is responsible for the strategic direction and operational program implementation. No easy task, given the company’s involvement in the military and commercial arenas. As the past President and CEO of the SES Global, S.A., subsidiary Americom Government Services, Mr. Helfgott has been responsible for increasing company market share and revenues. We managed to locate DataPath’s CEO on one of those rare occassions when he could take a few minutes to chat with us.

Mr. Helfgott, please tell us about your experience in the satellite industry? How did you arrive at DataPath?

Dave Helfgott
My early career was centered on marketing, sales, and business development at information technology and telecommunications companies such as eFusion, Bell Atlantic, and MCI. In 2000, I joined GE Americom as senior vice president of marketing. In 2001, SES acquired GE Americom and the new SES Global formed the Americom Government Services subsidiary. I was named president and CEO of that new business.

I joined DataPath in 2006 as president and COO, and this year I was appointed CEO. I have been very fortunate. My time in the satellite industry has been spent with dynamic, young organizations where I’ve worked with talented people to set the strategy and help grow businesses.

DataPath really came on to the stage with their involvement in the U.S. Army’s Joint Network Node and the U.S. Marines Corps’ Support Wide Area Network (SWAN) programs that started in 2004. The company has really grown since then. Can you tell us about the reasons behind such growth and where that has led the company today?

Dave Helfgott
The core driver of our business has been the U.S. Department of Defense C4ISR market. Since 2001, there has been a rapid acceleration of the use and evolution of satellite and wireless communications technology in U.S. military operations. The availability of high-bandwidth SATCOM connectivity has dramatically altered the speed of communications and increased the efficiency of gathering, analyzing, and acting on critical intelligence. This is where DataPath focused and what drove our growth. In 2001, when the U.S. military entered Afghanistan to set up forward-operating bases, we supplied transportable SATCOM hubs, and other systems that placed the network onto that battlefield. In Afghanistan, DataPath SATCOM terminals provided, for the first time, widespread access to high-bandwidth connectivity in direct support of large combat operations. Among other benefits, intelligence from video delivered by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and other sources quickly became actionable on the ground.

DataPath’s role in delivering communications networks evolved and grew in Iraq. We provided semi-permanent and mobile Deployable Ku-band Earth Terminals, or DKETs, which provided a wheeled platform highly suitable for quick positioning in Iraq. DataPath DKETs went “live” in Baghdad as troops established control over the Iraqi capital. These terminals delivered bandwidth that was many times greater than what had previously been deployed—in fact, this enabled a headquarters level of network capability in the capital city at the heart of a battle zone.

Once the DKET network delivered greater availability of bandwidth to commanders in Baghdad, the U.S. military envisioned a solution that would move that capability closer to the front line. This quickly evolved into the Joint Network Node, also known as the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical Increment One, or WIN-T. For this program, DataPath created a highly specialized terminal, the DataPath Satellite Transportable Terminal, or STT.

These rugged, trailer-mounted terminals can go anywhere a Humvee can travel. We’ve delivered more than 850 STTs to date, creating one of the largest, most robust tactical battlefield communications network ever deployed.

In parallel to the JNN/WIN-T deployment, we have also been involved with the U.S. Marine Corps’ SWAN program, which delivered a similar network using STTs, fly-away terminals, DKETs and wireless systems. SWAN has become global, with the program expanding into many deployments around the world. They have relied heavily on the network for command and control communications as well as for ISR applications such as unmanned aerial vehicle video on the frontline.

They also use a DataPath wireless system to extend high-bandwidth capability many miles beyond the SATCOM link. This is a really innovative battlefield development using a hybrid network to maximize capabilities.

The DKET, JNN/WIN-T, and SWAN programs have been the building blocks of network-centric communications in the field, and were the building blocks of our business. Since 2006, we have been actively diversifying through developing a broader military customer base and expanding into the civilian government and commercial media segments.

Of interest to our readers is the fact that your relatively small company played such a major role in the building of the modern battlefield network. How did DataPath make this happen?

Dave Helfgott
It was the company’s agility to do what was needed quickly, to work closely with the military to customize commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment, and deliver it with high quality. One of the breakthroughs we accomplished for JNN/WIN-T was the speed with which advanced and dependable SATCOM terminals can now be built and deployed.

The first STT was designed from scratch and built in 90 days. Later, we built many STTs each week. We have built DKET systems, from the ground up, in less than 10 days. DataPath has built more tactical SATCOM terminals for JNN/WIN-T and SWAN in two-plus years than had ever been previously produced and deployed in such a short time frame. When the military is at war, it cannot wait for years of R&D for a solution. Our business and manufacturing model fit right into the military’s concept of “spiraling” COTS, with each spiral bringing new innovations.

What customer benefits (commercial and military) are realized from your company’s recent acquisitions of SWE-DISH and the MaxView product?

Dave Helfgott
Three years ago, DataPath was largely a satellite communications systems integration company. Since the end of 2006, we have expanded our business and grown from that core into adjacent markets and capabilities.

SWE-DISH, for example, specializes in industry-leading, ultra-portable SATCOM terminals that feature sub-1.5 meter antennas. These include Suitcase® terminals, which are known and used throughout the military, and also by global commercial broadcasters. They also have developed one of the most advanced communications-on-the-move (COTM) systems available. Through SWE-DISH, we gained new customers and important capabilities that benefit our customers. We’ve now deployed SWE-DISH terminals to complement our customers’ established networks, which are based on our larger terminals.

With MaxView, the situation is much the same. In terms of capabilities, MaxView software, as a management and control element to satellite terminals and networks, is a unique product. The difference rests with its capability to manage any device, and to offer a truly universal view of one or many networks. This makes remote monitor and control possible. The power of the application to manage network communications also improves system uptime. In terms of customers, MaxView software is used by the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency to manage global teleports. It is also the network management software used in the U.S. military Ka-STARs program.

The acquisition of ILC, which developed MaxView, has dramatically expanded our customer base beyond military and civilian government users. MaxView has a blue chip commercial customer base, including many top global broadcasters.

DataPath and SWE-DISH networks and terminals can be deployed with MaxView. Currently, STTs, DKET, and SWE-DISH Fly-Away 150 terminals are MaxView-enabled. We have also been able to optimize our solutions by presenting complementary capabilities as well as a complete range of SATCOM terminals, from the smallest Suitcase system all the way up to large teleports.

In terms of the strength of our business, we had virtually no commercial business and no international business prior to these acquisitions. We were entirely focused on the U.S. DoD. That remains our core competency. However, we’ve now expanded into allied ministries of defense and the global commercial media markets. This diversifies and strengthens our business, and we also learn more as we work with a more varied customer base.
Dave, what are the key challenges that you help your customers to solve today?

Dave Helfgott
Our government-focused effort is centered on supporting the U.S. DoD’s network-centric vision, which is to ensure secure communications where it’s needed, when it is needed, and to those who need it. This is the challenge of the Joint Services and combatant commanders, who, despite obstacles offered by distance, terrain, or other impediments, require long-haul connectivity to the warfighter for tactical reach-back and strategic communications. Along these lines, we focus on developing portable communications networks, such as the systems used in JNN/WIN-T and SWAN. We are developing several COTM systems. We have been working intensively to develop multi-band satellite systems that leverage the latest military networks, such as the Wideband Global SATCOM, or WGS, system as well as commercial networks.

In the civilian government area, we support first responders involved in domestic disaster response. For them, we develop advanced, integrated interoperable command and control systems. Plus, we provide services such as on-site technical support, spares depots, and a network operations center to enable all of our capabilities. Our field expertise is one of the critical factors that help us innovate in close coordination with military users and program managers. Our real-world experience in how systems perform in the field can make an incredible difference as to how we spiral in new designs and technologies to continually improve systems.

What are the current challenges in order to deliver COTM on the battlefield?

Dave Helfgott
This is a complex and a critical challenge. A mobile command post capability would significantly improve operations on the battlefield. The key is, perhaps, as we have seen with the JNN/WIN-T and other programs, to deliver on most of the requirements quickly and spiral in advancements as they can be delivered. We should provide current capabilities into warfighters hands immediately. COTM capability is deployable and affordable today without years of R&D. The major issues we look at in respect to developing COTM solutions include:

Bandwidth—effective COTM systems need to provide large enough bandwidth at a high speed to support advanced applications.

Deployability—systems need to be truly deployable anywhere they need to be present. This means they are FCC-licensed, flexible, and can reliably operate with available satellite assets and the communications infrastructure.

Affordability—systems must be affordable, particularly with respect to bandwidth cost, as this outweighs capital equipment cost.

Interoperability—systems must be seamless within the common infrastructure and also communicate point-to-point with other deployed systems.

Advanced technology—systems must take full advantage of new wireless technology such as 802.16 to establish back-haul connectivity and meet the emerging requirement for larger bandwidth from moving vehicles to the hub.

Size, weight, and power—systems must be powerful enough to sustain operation, but as compact as possible to maximize deployability and enable system integrations on as many vehicles as possible.

Multi-band capability—systems must be capable of operating in X-, Ku- and Ka-bands to maximize bandwidth availability and operational flexibility through WGS and other networks.

Could you please tell us about DataPath’s role in solving COTM challenges?

Dave Helfgott
With COTM, DataPath plays two roles. We are a systems integrator capable of providing enterprise COTM solutions and we are a component manufacturer. Both our core DataPath business and our SWE-DISH subsidiary have experience developing a variety of land- and marine-based platforms that have been demonstrated with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Special Forces, U.S. Army, the Swedish Ministry of Defence, and others.

By working closely with military users and testing these systems in realistic environments, such as mounted on a fast-moving riverine assault vessel, a humvee, and an armored personnel carrier, we have been able to innovate design and functionality. The innovation is conceptual and technological—we are looking at a variety of technologies and mounting apparatus we believe capable of delivering to the military’s requirements.

As a systems integrator, we foresee solutions that combine SATCOM, wireless and land mobile radio technology, as well as address spread spectrum and single channel per carrier issues. Having deployed more than a thousand tactical terminals for the Army, Marines, and Special Forces in Southwest Asia, we’ve learned a lot about establishing complex network solutions. We bring this perspective to an enterprise view of putting COTM on the battlefield.

One of the systems we developed from this perspective is the Broadband On-the-Move SATCOM System, or the BOSS. This is a combined low-profile COTM and on-the-quick-halt system that also integrates land mobile radio, cellular, wireless networking, remote video surveillance, and other systems, into a complete mobile platform. This system has been demonstrated on a humvee platform at a number of military exercises.

As a component manufacturer, we have very innovative solutions. Our SWE-DISH division has developed a unique, high-performance COTM antenna solution. The key to the system is the unique antenna design and a four-axis stabilizer that enables unprecedented on-the-move satellite pointing accuracy. The system supports high data rates and low interference in Ku-, operating as a single carrier per channel, non-spread spectrum system. This is a breakthrough COTM antenna system that offers an affordable alternative to spread spectrum, and promises improved performance in Ka- and X-band.

Can you afford us a picture of what the nexgen SATCOM capabilities will look like on the battlefield as you build the network out further to forward-operating warfighters?

Dave Helfgott
Next-generation capabilities are being built to provide every warfighter with high-bandwidth connectivity to enhance situational awareness, information superiority, as well as speed and mobility. Integrated, multi-band, hybrid communications systems that include SATCOM and terrestrial wireless are a very important part of this.

The goal is to move advanced communications capabilities into the hands of warfighters on the furthest edge of the network.

In terms of SATCOM, communications on-the-quick-halt (COTQH), which is the technology we have now, was a big step after 2003. COTQH delivered high-bandwidth capability, similar to a headquarters’ capability, that could be achieved at the battalion level. The innovation was getting many systems in the field that could set-up in less than 30 minutes at a stationary position during an operation, or at a more permanent, forward-operating base. Forward-operating forces can access NIPRNet and SIPRNet Internet resources, video teleconference, send and receive intelligence video, and more, all from that location.
Now, COTM and hybrid networks that use both commercial and military SATCOM networks will take that to the next level by providing all of that capability on the move. Rather than stopping and starting to access high-bandwidth capability, warfighters will be able to move at high speeds while accessing video and satellite imagery. They’ll be able to use high-bandwidth applications to track forces, use intelligence applications, and communicate with others via data and voice.

The COTM link will enable extended and integrated land mobile radio, wireless and cellular networks around a command vehicle—every warfighter will have access to video and other applications. Even now, this intel is centered at the division, brigade, and battalion levels. With these advanced networks, we’re going to be able to give everyone real-time
situational awareness.

As more high-bandwidth applications and communications systems emerge, the real important issues are increasing performance while decreasing size and weight, as well as managing bandwidth requirements. It is critical that we are innovative with terminal designs, including within the ultra-portable and COTM categories, and develop multi-band terminals that operate on X- and Ka-band military networks as well as Ku-band commercial networks.

What progress has been made in building out the WGS-compatible ground segment since the first satellite launch last year, and what is DataPath’s role?

Dave Helfgott
WGS SV 1 is in orbit and is now the DoD’s highest capacity communications satellite. This is a significant resource for warfighters as SATCOM is now pervasive in the communications infrastructure and is pushing further to the edge of the network. The key now is building out the ground terminal segment as the military decreases its reliance on commercial networks

Similar to the rapid deployment of the JNN/WIN-T and SWAN programs, this new resource is driving a new spiral of technology into the hands of users. The military now needs WGS terminals that can be rapidly certified and deployed on tight schedules. DataPath plans to be a key WGS ground segment solutions supplier as well as a software provider.

In building out the ground segment, DataPath has a strong advantage. We’re known for our speed and agility as we work closely with our customers. We have the field experience deploying systems side-by-side with our customers to know how to get this done. Moreover, we have been developing WGS systems. For example, we’ve already developed WGS Ka-band conversion kits for the hundreds of STT and DKET terminals in the field.

We have also released the new V-SNAP multi-band fly-away terminal, which is WGS capable, that can replace many standard military SATCOM terminals. V-SNAP is a flexible solution that is based on the fly-away systems deployed with the Marines and National Guard, and built to interoperate with current JNN/WIN-T, DKET and SWAN networks. This is a proven and cost-effective replacement system, ready for the field.

This year, our SWE-DISH subsidiary will release WGS-compatible terminals on the ultra-portable end of the terminal spectrum, down to a suitcase-sized system. These terminals are based on SWE-DISH’s CommuniCase® Technology that features interchangeable components—different modems and antennas can be incorporated and parts can easily be replaced in the field.

Finally, our MaxView software is already a proven solution that is being deployed to support the Ka-STARS program. We are quite focused on helping build the WGS terminal segment rapidly, just as we have built the other critical SATCOM and wireless networks for the U.S military.

You mentioned disaster response as a key challenge... since Hurricane Katrina, has there been significant progress in ensuring interoperable communications will be available for first responder command and control?

Dave Helfgott
Through the Call Home Act passed last year, a billion dollars in interoperable communications funding is provided specifically to first responders. There are also new congressional bills pending for even more funding of emergency communications, beyond the existing Department of Homeland Security and other first responder agency funding.

The U.S. Army National Guard’s Joint Incident Site Communications Capability, or JISCC, is a notable example of progress in this area. There are 32 command and control solutions built by DataPath deployed throughout the country. One, or many, of these systems can be towed or flown to a disaster area, and once on site, they can be set up in 30 minutes to establish SATCOM and wireless connectivity as well as interoperable communications with land mobile radio and other systems. JISCC takes connectivity and interoperability to a new level—it integrates SATCOM, wireless, and land mobile radio, as well as applications such as video teleconferencing, and packages it in one complete, compact and highly deployable configuration.

We’re working closely with the Guard and other first responders to continue to develop and deploy these types of systems.

Last question, Dave… what major technology advancements, new programs, and other events are you watching and planning for in the future?

Dave Helfgott
We work very closely with our military customers as we plan for tomorrow’s needs as well as working to meet today’s. Our core business is supporting the military to meet their toughest communications challenges. Along these lines, emerging operational needs and new military networks will present new opportunities to improve the ground terminal system.

Overall, we still have a lot of work to do to build out network-centric capabilities and implement COTM and hybrid networks in support of new applications that warfighters will use. To support these efforts, DataPath has become good at integrating technologies to create systems that are groundbreaking. For example, we’re making progress in addressing the needs of the military to collect, distribute, manage, and analyze video assets. This capability involves hardware, advanced software, and personnel to go out in the field and ensure these systems work reliably. From a product perspective, we design for flexibility, creating systems such as the SWE-DISH CommuniCase® Technology satellite terminals with interchangeable components.

On the software side, MaxView has a great deal of potential to move networks to the next level through remote management and control. We focus on capabilities such as these that address long term needs for reliable, flexible systems that go anywhere, improve performance, and maximize users’ control over their networks.

Thanks for your time, Dave—we appreciate your information and, likewise, see DataPath’s future as highly innovative and a solid business model, all the while helping our warfighters accomplish their missions.