Satellite launch marks 'new era for warfighter'

The Defense Department entered a new age of communications this week with the successful launch of a wide-bandwidth satellite that can zap a total of 96 megabits per second (megabits/sec) of data to small, deployable terminals that are part of a system modeled after commercial, direct-broadcast TV systems.

While the system was designed for use by all the services, the Navy views the new satellite, with its Global Broadcast Service (GBS) transponder package, as essential to its Information for the 21st century project. IT-21 is the Navy's program to tie together all its sea- and land-based tactical and administrative computer systems.

Hughes Space and Communications Co. launched the GBS satellite, called the Navy Ultra High Frequency Follow 8 (UHF F/O 8), from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Lt. Gen. David Kelley, director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, said the launch marks the start of "a whole new era of bandwidth for the warfighter."

Because the GBS package only works one way, DOD plans to use the new satellite to transmit wideband data such as large Microsoft Corp. PowerPoint slides, graphics, reconnaissance photos and live video from a central point to dispersed users. Users will use lower-band circuits to request data from central GBS distribution points, in a system Adm. Archie Clemins described as an asynchronous communications system.

Clemins, commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and the principal backer of the Navy's IT-21 project, plans to use the GBS package on UHF F/O 8 to deliver high-bandwidth data to relatively small terminals on ships at sea.The Navy has developed its IT-21 architecture around the launch schedule of the three-satellite GBS constellation.

The satellite launched this week is designed to cover the Pacific Ocean, and the Navy has concentrated on installing high-speed local-area networks on ships serving the Pacific area of operations. The next two satellites will cover the Atlantic and Indian oceans respectively, with ships operating those areas slated to receive IT-21 upgrades in sequence with the launches.

"The added bandwidth and the new global broadcast capability [will]...jump-start the network-centric age of warfighting," Clemins said.

In March 1996, the Navy increased the value of the UHF F/O contract by $150 million to incorporate the GBS package on three satellites. Hughes said the GBS package consists of four 130-watt, 24 megabits/sec military Ka-band (30/20 GHz) transponders with three steerable downlink spot-beam antennas as well as one steerable- and one fixed-uplink antenna. This modification results in a total of 96 megabits/sec GBS capability per satellite.

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