New comm equipment causes a buzz at Fort Bragg

FORT BRAGG N.C. - Moving a team of communicators from one trouble spot to another is routine business for the Army's 112th Signal Battalion.

When U.S. troops were sent last April to Sierra Leone to help support the evacuation of aid workers missionaries and other civilians from Liberia the 112th quickly dispatched a nine-person team from Bosnia to Africa to provide communications for the operation. That team from the 112th "had voice communications within one hour and Autodin traffic within two hours" of hitting the ground said Maj. Jack Arnold operations officer for the battalion.

This stems from the 112th's mission to support all Army Special Operations forces - the Green Berets as well as specialized helicopter units and the Rangers - plus a requirement to support tri-service joint commands.

"We have up to 70 soldiers deployed at any given time to places such as Turkey [supporting Operation Deny Flight over Iraq] Bosnia Italy and Bahrain " Arnold said. For missions such as the Liberian evacuation the 112th troops travel light using Single Channel Tactical Satellite (Tacsat) "suitcase" radios to quickly access the Defense Communications Satellite system.

Tacsat comes packed in what Arnold called a "Special Ops Comm Assemblage" consisting of the satellite transceiver a Pentium laptop computer and a digital camera used to send on-the-scene pictures back to a higher command.

If an operation lasts longer than a few days and requires larger pipes the 112th will fly in a standard Army TCS-93 terminal and message switch with a Cisco Systems Inc. router mounted on two Humvees. This allows the 112th to handle larger amounts of data Arnold said.

Raytheon to Supply Tri-band Gear

The 112th is at the top of the list to receive Army Tri-band satellite gear capable of accessing military as well as C- and Ku-band commercial satellites under a $157 million contract awarded last month to Raytheon Corp. Arnold looks forward to using this equipment which packs switching and communications into one Humvee.

Col. Dennis Via commander of the 82nd Signal Brigade which supports the 82nd Airborne Division said that while his unit has a full complement of Army- standard satellite terminals mounted on heavy tracks he too views "single-channel Tacsat as our lifeline.... When we do something like an airfield seizure it's our umbilical cord."

Because the airborne division can spend hours traveling by aircraft to the site of a deployment its signal units must also provide communications between those aircraft and headquarters Via said. The 82nd Signal uses ARC-51 radios it installs on Air Force airlifters which provide satellite communications back to headquarters as well as communications between the aircraft Via said.

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