GBS hits snag

The Defense Department's Global Broadcast Service (GBS), a worldwide network designed to give commanders access to hundreds of channels of intelligence, imagery and live video feeds, has run into hardware and software problems that have delayed deployment of the system by at least three months.

According to military and industry sources, installation of the shipboard antennas and receivers has thrown the program off schedule. GBS service, capable of delivering 24 megabits/sec to antennas as small as 22 inches in diameter, originally was slated to start in July from a Navy-owned satellite launched earlier this year in the Pacific Ocean.

Adm. Archie Clemins, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT), views GBS as the core networking technology of the Navy's Information Technology for the 21st Century project. Clemins wants to test GBS operationally in Operation Tandem Thrust, a joint military exercise with U.S. and Australian forces that is scheduled for the spring of 1999.

Raytheon Electronic Systems won the overall $200 million GBS contract in November 1997 along with a separate $75 million Navy contract this January. FCW has learned that the Raytheon GBS program office in Reston, Va., has launched a crash program to fix the problems that created delays in the GBS schedule, pulling personnel off other projects to concentrate on the GBS fix.

Capt. Tim Traverso, director of command, control, communications and computers for CINCPACFLT, told FCW in an interview at CINCPACFLT headquarters in Honolulu last week that "the problem [with GBS] is the antennas and receivers.... They're not yet ready to go on ships, [although] installation was scheduled for this summer.'' Traverso said this delay in shipboard installation makes the GBS uplink that is already installed in Honolulu about as useful "as a boat anchor'' because the Navy does not have the equipment to receive its signal.

Capt. Gary Graupman, program manager for the Joint Maritime Communication System at the Space and Naval Warfare Command (Spawar), said Raytheon's delay in antenna delivery resulted from performance problems with low-noise amplifier circuitry that was designed to boost the relatively weak satellite signal. "This is bleeding-edge technology and a complex design. There are only two vendors [capable of producing the amplifier],'' he said.

He said he now expects delivery of the first Navy antenna by Sept. 16 and anticipates that the Navy will have completed a dozen installations by next April. The Navy plans to install GBS on 366 ships.

Besides the antenna problems, the Raytheon GBS receiver— a souped-up version of the DirecTV home satellite receiver— flunked a key Navy vibration test for shipboard operation earlier this month, Graupman said. The internal hard drive in the receiver failed during the test, Graupman said. Although a new test has been scheduled for Sept. 14, resolution of "outstanding issue[s]'' could delay this test until mid-October, according to Spawar.

In a statement issued to FCW last week, the Raytheon GBS program office disputed that the company was overdue in delivery of the shipboard equipment. The statement asserted that changes by the government in its requirement after the contract was signed caused adjustments to the delivery schedule, which were made earlier this year. "Since then," the office said, "the schedule has been tracking to the very day."

A Raytheon spokesman acknowledged the antenna problems as outlined by the Navy and said the company is working to rectify these as quickly as possible. He could not comment on the receiver problems because Raytheon program personnel were not available at deadline.

The Navy and the GBS joint program office (JPO) also have encountered "problematic software'' in the GBS receiver that could delay rollout to users in the other services because it is the standard receiver for all three services. The receiver was acquired through a separate Raytheon contract with the Air Force Space and Missile Command. According to a statement from Spawar, this software has resulted in "Raytheon...experiencing technical difficulties in passing factory-acceptance testing....'' Graupman said the delays have a "cascade effect'' on the development of training courses and technical manuals.

The GBS JPO did not return calls from FCW asking for comment on what delays, if any, the receiver problems might cause.

Despite these difficulties, Graupman said the slips in the GBS program need to be put in perspective. "This is a very aggressive schedule.... The JPO was set up only 18 months ago.''

- Daniel Verton contributed to this story.


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