Air Force awards mobile telecom contract

Air Force officials have stepped up efforts to build a mobile communications system that would allow warfighters in remote locations to swiftly access voice, video and data information.

Officials awarded an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract worth up to $490 million last month to Dell Inc., General Dynamics Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp. and Redcom Laboratories Inc. to develop components for the system, which is part of the Theatre Deployable Communications program.

Air Force personnel have already completed a $270 million contract to build the mobile communications infrastructure, officials said.

"Our first follow-on contract reached a ceiling of nearly $270 million with the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom," said Joan Wandrei, the program's manager, in a statement issued earlier this month. "The higher dollar amount for this follow-on contract is a reflection of the system's importance to the warfighter. The contract will enable users to rapidly acquire the communications infrastructure they need to support the Air Force mission in the Middle East and around the world."

The systems provide telephone lines, Internet connections and other equipment commonly found in a corporate environment. The units allow Air Force personnel to talk by radio or telephone and connect to a local network or satellite system. "We provide all this capability in a portable form, which is ideal for the functionality and flexibility required for the deployed environment," Wandrei said.

Air Force information technology officials want the deployable systems, called modules, to decrease logistics support and increase mobility, communications capacity, data sharing and user connections. The modules weigh a couple of hundred pounds each and provide an infrastructure typically found in a communications shelter, Wandrei said.

The modules cost between $50,000 and $150,000 and include voice, data, multiplexing, network control and on-base transmission. Each module can also be configured to meet personnel requirements, she added.

The contract buys equipment to support 181 integrated communications access packages, 148 network control centers and 140 satellite communications terminals. Air Force IT officials already awarded $20 million under the deal and will complete the procurement by July 2009, according to a Defense Department statement.

With deployable containers, the commercial computer servers, switches and routers are easy to transport and set up. "Conceptually, the system is packaged to provide the warfighter a rapid setup capability that's interoperable with other networks fully deployed in the field," said Martin Amen, senior director for space and communication systems at Northrop Grumman's Mission Systems business unit in Reston, Va.

Air Force IT officials need the Theatre Deployable Communications program because they don't know where aircraft and personnel may deploy next in the war on terrorism, and they cannot take years to build an infrastructure to support them, said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity. org, a national think tank in Alexandria, Va.

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