Army to award $400M fleet tracking pact

The Army plans to award this week a $400 million contract to create a system that will provide battlefield commanders the ability to precisely locate and communicate with battlefield support vehicles operating anywhere in the world.

The Army Movement Tracking System is based on proven commercial geolocation technology that integrates satellite-based Global Positioning System technology with communications systems. Commercially, the system has been used to track vehicles ranging from commuter buses in Perth, Australia, to truck fleets in the United States. But MTS will be scaled up to fleet management on a global basis.

Richard Langley, a GPS expert at the University of New Brunswick, Canada, said "as far as I know, [MTS] is the largest" worldwide geolocation system ever fielded.

MTS will use GPS satellite receivers hooked into satellite radio transmitters to send precise position information to a central control station located at various echelons of command. The MTS satellite communications system also will relay messages to and from tactical battlefield vehicles such as ammunition and fuel trucks - many of which today do not have radios - and command posts.

Laptop computer-equipped MTS units mounted in 39,000 vehicles will provide truck drivers with moving map displays that will enable them to pinpoint their locations and to plan their routes using commercial and National Imagery and Mapping Agency databases.

MTS also will provide the Army with close to 12,000 battery-operated lightweight units without the mapping function and 4,750 control stations that will enable headquarters commanders to track and communicate with the support vehicles operating in their area of operations.

The system, managed by the Army Communications-Electronics Command, will serve as an integral link to the development of the "digitized" Army. In the digitized army, soldiers and commanders across the battlefield will use commercial computers and network technology to exchange tactical information. The Army already has started to equip combat vehicles, such as tanks and armored personnel carriers, with GPS receivers and e-mail systems hooked into their radio systems and on-board computers as part of its Force XXI digitized battlefield program.

MTS also supports DOD's Total Asset Visibility initiative, which aims to provide DOD commanders with a way to track closely the movement of vital supplies around the world. TAV came about from the Persian Gulf War, in which supplies frequently piled up in unlabeled crates at supply depots because of a lack of tracking capability.

Jay Nelson, director of business development for the information systems division of GTE Government Systems, one of the five companies bidding on MTS, described MTS as "an attempt to apply just-in-time delivery systems to the battlefield."

Ultimately, data from MTS, a contract vehicle open to all services, will feed into DOD-wide logistics management systems such as the Global Transportation Network. Nelson said he expects that MTS geolocation devices eventually will become so small that they can be attached to a freight container and provide a continuous stream of position information as the container makes its way from a stateside depot to a portside supply depot in another country.

The potential of MTS and its use throughout DOD and civilian agencies has attracted a wide range of prime contractors, with all but one choosing the Orbcomm low data rate satellite system, developed by Orbital Sciences Corp., as the key communications system.

Bidders aligned with Orbcomm include Arinc Inc., which tapped the Magellan Systems division of Orbital as its GPS receiver provider, and Panasonic Personal Computer Co., to supply portable computers. GTE Government Systems partnered with Stellar Satellite Communications Ltd. for its transceiver and Tetra Technologies of Canada Ltd. for MTS hardware. Litton/PRC Inc. declined to identify its partners, but industry sources said the company has teamed with both Orbcomm and Communications Satellite Corp.

Comtech Mobile Datacom, which holds a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency pact to adapt commercial geolocation systems to military use, reached deals with American Mobile Satellite Corp. for domestic service and with the International Maritime Satellite Organization for international service.

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