Navy: GBS back on track

The Navy said it has fixed problems that delayed deployment of a broadband satellite communications system designed to feed hundreds of channels of information to command ships, carrier battle groups and amphibious ready groups constantly on station in potential world hot spots.

The delay in deployment of shipboard satellite antennas to pick up signals from the high-powered Global Broadcast Service (GBS) caused concern in the Navy's Pacific Fleet. The fleet's commander, Adm. Archie Clemins, views GBS as the core networking technology of the Navy's Information Technology for the 21st Century "knowledge-centric warfare" project, based on commercial systems adapted to the Navy's requirements.

But the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (Spawar) said the contractor for the high-speed GBS, Raytheon Corp., has fixed hardware problems that delayed deployment last year. Capt. Gary Graupmann, program manager for joint maritime communications systems at Spawar, San Diego, said Spawar recently put the GBS antennas through a series of tests "that really stressed the system, and we got every bit of throughput expected."

Raytheon delayed delivery of the GBS shipboard antennas last year, Graupmann said, due to performance problems with low noise amplifier (LNA) circuits he described as having a "bleeding-edge design." Graupmann said the new LNAs performed well in tests conducted last year, even in a "low angle" test, which diminishes the capability of the receiver to pick up the full strength of the satellite signal.

A redesigned shock mount for the receiver electronics literally passed a test by fire: The receiver, based on the commercial DirecTV home satellite receivers, was mounted on a barge and towed across a lake while dodging live ordnance exploding in the water. The necessity to adapt commercial products to the more unforgiving requirements of the military caused many of the delays, according to Kenny Robinson, the Spawar GBS acquisition manager. "Integrating [commercial off-the-shelf] equipment is far more complicated than advertised," Robinson said.

Rear Adm. (select) Charles Munns, director of command and control for the Pacific Fleet, called GBS a "good news story" and said he looks forward to testing GBS in the Navy's Tandem Thrust II multinational exercise, which is slated to start in March off the coast of Guam.

Graupmann cautioned that Spawar may not meet the Pacific Fleet's deadline for installing a GBS system on the USS Blue Ridge, which is the 7th Fleet's command ship for Tandem Thrust II, but he anticipates that Spawar could meet the installation schedule for the USS Kitty Hawk, which is an aircraft carrier that will participate in the exercise.

Graupmann said Spawar and Raytheon will complete installation of the first Navy GBS system next month on the USS Coronado, which is the command ship of the 3rd Fleet, based in San Diego.

Raytheon did not respond to questions from FCW by deadline last week.

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