Marines extend satellite communications

Corps extends broadband to company level

The Marine Corps has started to bridge the digital divide among combat units in Iraq by deploying broadband satellite communications systems at the battalion and company levels, said Brig. Gen. Joseph Dunford, the Marine Corps’ operations director.

By moving communications capabilities down the organizational structure, the Marines have given companies, which generally have about 125 soldiers, the same communications assets previously assigned to regiments and divisions.

Speaking last week at AFCEA International’s annual TechNet International conference in Washington, D.C., Dunford said modern warfare calls for the use of broadband communications by all Marine infantry battalions and companies.

The Marines need to extend the use of satellite assets far forward, Dunford said. Based on his experience as a regiment combat team commander in Iraq in 2003, he concluded that existing terrestrial communications systems cannot fulfill modern warfare demands.

Dunford said he had only limited bandwidth available for communications with his battalions and companies on the march to Baghdad. The Marines were using Enhanced Position Location Reporting System (EPLRS) radios, which have a data transfer rate that peaks at about 100 kilobits/sec. They also had to rely on voice communications via VHF Single-Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System devices or send human messengers back and forth.

Since 2003, the Marines have increased the use of satellite communications systems in Iraq by raiding stateside units for equipment, Dunford said. Although only 30 percent of Marine units are in Iraq, they have 60 percent of all the corps’ communications systems, Dunford said.

Satellite terminal demands in Iraq have resulted in a drastic change in the Marine standard table of operations and equipment, Dunford said.

Before the start of combat in Iraq, the Marine table of operations and equipment called for four Secure Mobile Anti-Jam Reliable Tactical-Terminals (SMART-Ts) per division. Marine divisions in Iraq now have about 37 SMART-Ts, said Fred Darlington, director of satellite communications at Raytheon, which makes the systems.

Dunford said that although the Marines still do not have enough SMART-Ts in Iraq to equip every company, most battalions and infantry companies operating in remote locations have the terminals.

Darlington said the terminals provide the Marine units with a T1 data circuit to and from the Milstar satellite constellation.

The 1.54 megabits/sec connection is not especially fast compared with other military and commercial satellite systems used in Iraq. But Darlington said the Milstar satellites provide the Marines with virtually jam-proof communications that are hard to intercept.

Satellites save lives in IraqThe Army’s satellite-based Movement Tracking System (MTS) is saving lives in Iraq, according to a recent e-mail report to the Army Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems.

When a vehicle in an Army convoy equipped with MTS gear operating near the city of Najaf hit an explosive-formed projectile, the VHF Single-Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (Singcars) was useless. But soldiers used MTS to call for a medical evacuation, which saved the life of a critically wounded soldier, according to the report.

Developed by Comtech Mobile Datacom, MTS consists of a satellite transceiver mounted on the roof of a Humvee. The transceiver is hooked up to a computer terminal that gets position information from a military Global Positioning System receiver.

MTS is more effective than Singcars because it has unlimited range and doesn’t rely on line-of-sight communications to work, said Ralston Mims, the Army’s MTS deputy project manager. Many convoy escort vehicles don’t even have radios, he added.

The Army plans to buy 12,000 MTS devices, including onboard radio frequency identification readers to help track supplies.

-- Josh Rogin

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