Army tests terminals, awaits award

FORT HUACHUCA Ariz. - With the Army expecting to award a $300 million contract for a new generation of mobile satellite terminals this month soldiers here are giving rave reviews to the six prototype systems the Army has already received.

The prototypes were built by GTE Corp. under a $10.2 million contract awarded in 1994. Called TriSat terminals because they receive the three super-high-frequency bands (X C and Ku) the terminals can communicate with any military or commercial satellite and will support voice data imagery and video teleconferencing communications.

The systems are mounted on Humvees for quick deployment to far-forward positions on the battlefield.

"It takes a while to set up a backbone network " said Sgt. Brett Robinson who has been testing the prototypes. "With the TriSats we can be the first ones in and operational until the bigger communications gear gets there."

Each terminal supports 35 voice lines and up to 4 500 computer data lines. Transmission goes through one satellite uplink and three downlinks.

"What's unique about the TriSat terminals is that they can work with three satellite bands without increasing the [amount] of equipment on-board " said Rick Semon the acquisition manager for satellite ground terminals at GTE. "One box in the terminal can do what three boxes used to do."

Considered an integration feat the terminals contain the following commercial products:* A Cyberchron Corp. 386 ruggedized laptop.* A Network Equipment Technologies Inc. IDNX/20 multiplexer.* A Cisco Systems Inc. 2500 Series router.* Converters modems and encryption devices from Radiation Systems Inc.

The terminals which cost $1.7 million apiece also feature a patch panel a tactical satellite signal processor and special switching devices. Designed as a rapidly deployable communications capability the TriSat terminals take about 30 minutes for a three-person team to set up.

"This is the best system I ever worked with " Staff Sgt. Angel Segarra said. "The concept is good. They provide so much support in a small package.... We're dying to take them out into the field."

Segarra did however point out some glitches with the prototypes. For example the systems do not work well if it is hotter than 115 degrees which is common in the Arizona desert. The terminals have no on-board air conditioning and also offer no additional storage space.

Another problem is the power supply. The existing equipment in a TriSat terminal occupies about 99.8 percent of the power-generation capability of the system leaving no extra juice for additional equipment.GTE officials said these problems will be fixed with the follow-on procurement which requires the Humvees to pull trailers for additional storage space and air conditioning. But Semon pointed out that air conditioners can become points of failure for an integrated system such as this one instead GTE is focusing on designing the equipment to withstand 130 degree heat.

Despite the shortfalls the TriSat terminals offer significant advantages over their predecessors which were X-band-only truck-mounted terminals that took a four-person crew several hours to set up.The TriSat terminals underwent acceptance tests in the Twentynine Palms desert area of California. The units passed the tests and were accepted at the end of April. Follow-On Due SoonGTE's contract to test the prototypes is the precursor of the Army's Communications-Electronics Command follow-on procurement called Joint Tri-Band Terminals (T3). Due for award this month the contract calls for up to 275 mobile satellite terminals that will support all three satellite frequencies. Four firms are bidding on T3: GTE Raytheon Harris and Lockheed Martin Corp.

The T3 terminals will come in four variations:* A Humvee-mounted version with switching and satellite capabilities that travels with a support Humvee for extra power generation.* A Humvee-mounted version with switching and satellite capabilities that is self-sufficient.* A trailer-pulling version with satellite-only capabilities.* A trailer-pulling version with switching and satellite capabilities.

Because of their experience with the TriSat terminals GTE officials believe they have a leg up in the follow-on competition.

Harris may also have an advantage because the company has a contract to build a trailer-mounted satellite terminal but without the switching capability. GTE is a subcontractor on that program

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