Pentagon launches $500M GBS program

A new era in military satellite communications came one step closer to reality last week when four teams submitted bids on the $500 million Global Broadcast Service a program designed to give soldiers on the battlefield the power to select large-scale images and videos much the same way a TV viewer selects channels.

The Pentagon wants to use the GBS system to "push" delivery of broadband information such as intelligence photographs taken by reconnaissance satellites to soldiers and commanders deployed worldwide. As demonstrated in Bosnia commanders also want to use GBS to relay live video from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles which act as remote scouts to commanders on the scene as well as in the Pentagon.

GBS also will allow the rapid transmission of quickly updated weather files as well as maps and charts accessed through terminals that the Pentagon would like to see priced around $10 000.

Four teams plan to bid on the contract and have put top managers on the effort which one contractor termed "the crown jewel of next-generation information technology systems. This is a must-win because there is going to be only one Global Broadcast system."

The Defense Department believes that GBS with its ability to "rapidly distribute large amounts of data promises to have a dramatic impact in military communications " according to Vice Adm. D.E. Frost.

The high bandwidth will speed distribution of material and information that today clogs existing military satellite systems. In a test last year using a commercial Direct Broadcast Satellite the Air Force distributed 6 000 sortie air tasking orders in half a second. The GBS Joint Program Office at Los Angeles Air Force Base has put the procurement on a fast track with an award slated for early September and installation of limited capabilities by February 1998.

The winning contractor will provide up to 29 000 handheld terminals for vehicles ships submarines and aircraft. It also will develop and build three ground uplink terminals - one each in Hawaii Norfolk Va. and Signolla Italy. The Hawaii terminal should be ready to operate shortly after Hughes Space and Communications Co. launches the first Ka-band-equipped satellite early next year.

DOD also requires a vendor to help provide information management to sift and sort information that will come at users in a fire-hose torrent of data. Because information and broadcast management are at the heart of the GBS solution the bidding teams have closely held the details of their respective approaches. But all bidders agree that because Hughes built the satellites it has an advantage on the Phase II contract. Hughes also played a key technology role in the Bosnian Command and Control Augmentation System which proved the GBS concept in a real-world operation.

The Raytheon E-Systems team thinks it can counter any Hughes advantage with the technology and talents of teammate BTG Inc. which plans to apply PointCast technology to the GBS information system problem said Mark Belk BTG's FedCast consulting manager.

The Boeing Defense and Space Group team has tapped Microsoft Corp. for its information management skills and tools according to Rick Collins the Boeing GBS program manager.

Lockheed Martin Corp. AT&T Government Markets and Comsat along with GEC-Marconi Hazeltine comprise the fourth bidding team. Paul Valovich the Lockheed program manager said the ability to demonstrate that a team can meet the tight schedules imposed by the program office to have satellite uplinks and downlinks shortly after award is "the hardest part of the job."Warren Suss a Pennsylvania-based communications analyst called GBS Phase II a "close-out kind of contract: If you don't win it you're shut out and there's not many of these decade-long contracts left anymore."

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