1108th wears many hats serving as DSCS gatekeeper
- By Bob Brewin
- Mar 16, 1997
Combine the functions of a worldwide satellite communications company with a local telephone company throw in a bunch of Spanish linguist radio operators and stir in the operation of the mythical Washington-Moscow "hot line " and you begin to get a sense of the mission of the Army's 1108th Signal Brigade.
The primary mission of the 1108th which has more than 1 000 military and civilian personnel nationwide and is based at Fort Ritchie Md. consists of operations and maintenance of 60-foot-wide satellite Earth stations and switching centers that serve as the primary entry points for the Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS).
The terminals - located at Camp Roberts Calif. Fort Detrick Frederick Md. Fort Meade Md. and another terminal under construction at Fort Bragg N.C. - not only support Army users but also serve as a key link in the globe-spanning Defense Information Systems Network for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and for users from other services. The 1110th Signal Battalion a unit of the 1108th operates the DSCS terminals.
The terminals originally installed in the mid-1970s are being upgraded with advanced solid-state transmitters and electronics which should provide at least another 15 years of service supporting ground mobile forces deployed throughout the world including U.S. forces currently deployed to Bosnia.
Fort Detrick houses two DSCS Earth stations capable of accessing satellites hovering over the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Fort Detrick also serves as the home to the "hot line " which 1108th personnel point out is not a red phone at all but just another dish in the Fort Detrick antenna farm.
Detrick also serves as the terminus of the Washington Area Wideband System (WAWS) a dedicated Defense Department digital microwave system that feeds traffic from users in the Washington area into the Detrick DSCS switches and terminals.
The 1108th also operates what amounts to local telephone companies for DOD users in the greater Boston Mass. and St. Louis Mo. areas according to Col. Velma "Von" Richardson who took command of the 1108th last year. These two systems known as Defense Metropolitan Area Telephone Systems (DMATS) provide phone service to 20 000 DOD customers in the Boston area and 15 000 in St. Louis.
In Boston DMATS serves major units and bases including the Soldier System Command and Hanscom Air Force Base. The St. Louis DMATS provides service to the Defense Mapping Agency Aerospace center the Army Reserve and Personnel Center and the Defense Finance and Accounting Center.
The 1110th supports and operates one of the most unique communications systems in all of DOD the Washington-area gateway station for a high-frequency (HF) single-sideband radio system called SICOMEA (Sistema Integral de Communicaciones de Ejercitos Americanos). Sgt. Orlando Zayas platoon sergeant for the 1110th's HF section described SICOMEA "as an integrated communications system for the [Latin and South] American armies."
Zayas said the system which provides voice phone patches and data service at 2 400 bit/sec "provides a means for those countries to stay in touch with their attaches in Washington."
The HF platoon also supports the Federal Emergency Management Agency with the HF Shared Resources network Zayas said and also operates key stations in the Military Affiliate Radio System a ham network used for morale and welfare.
Although many DOD units have discarded HF radio in favor of satellite communications 1110th commander Lt. Col. Joseph Bitto is looking for ways to capitalize on HF. The 1110th has started experimenting with an HF radio system developed by Navy experimenters that will provide Internet connectivity. "I look at HF as the unexplored spectrum " Bitto said.
Bitto's primary focus at the 1110th like Richardson's at the 1108th is the DSCS Earth terminals. Although overloaded at times the DSCS satellites can still handle an impressive throughput according to Sgt. Dale Dumas a satellite controller stationed at Fort Detrick. Each of the seven transponder DSCS birds can handle 7 gigabit/sec of data and Dumas said part of his job requires consolidating incoming signals from the WAWS "into one big pipe."
The ongoing upgrade to the DSCS terminals has made this job easier according to Dumas with fiber-optic cabling replacing copper wire within the Earth station compound and the former water-cooled transmitters replaced by air-cooled solid-state devices.