Small firm wins Army MTS pact

Comtech Mobile Datacom, which has 18 employees and annual revenues of $40 million, has bested a competitive field of blue-chip aerospace companies and systems integrators to win a $418 million contract to develop the Army's Movement Tracking System (MTS).

Comtech Mobile Datacom, a Germantown, Md., subsidiary of Comtech Corp., Melville, N.Y., beat out Arinc Inc., GTE Government Systems, Litton/PRC Inc. and Northrop Grumman Corp. to win the award for MTS, a system that is designed to enable commanders to precisely locate and communicate with battlefield support vehicles operating anywhere in the world.

Joel Alper, president of Comtech Mobile Datacom, said that in this case knowledge of the system and its requirements—not company size—won the day.

Comtech Mobile Datacom has been working to develop a system specifically for the Army project over the past four or five years, both on its own and under a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency contract, Alper said. "The characteristics of our system are unique," he said.

MTS will track battlefield support vehicles, such as fuel tankers and ammo trucks, by using a worldwide satellite communications network to relay precise position information derived from truck-mounted Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers to control stations located at battlefield command posts.

The satellite network also will provide messaging services to and from those vehicles. The Army plans to install laptop computer-equipped MTS units in 39,000 vehicles that will provide drivers with a moving map display and also plans to purchase 12,000 battery-operated luggable units without the map display that can easily be switched from one vehicle to another. The Army also plans to purchase 4,750 control stations.

This architecture is based on commercial geolocation systems used in a variety of applications worldwide to track everything from commuter buses in Perth, Australia, to freight containers in the United States. 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.

Alper declined to provide specific details of Comtech Mobile Datacom's MTS architecture until after the protest period expires this week. But he would say that his company's proposal differed from the competition in that its system is not tied to any particular satellite system.

Rival bidders based their satellite communications architecture on the Orbcomm low-earth orbit (LEO) system, developed by Orbital Sciences Corp. Comtech Mobile Datacom can use LEOs, geostationary or mid-Earth orbit satellites, Alper said.

The company plans to provide domestic communications service for MTS through satellites operated by American Mobile Satellite Corp. and its Canadian affiliate, Alper said, and the company is negotiating with the International Maritime Satellite Organization to provide international service, he said.

While the requirement to provide worldwide service to more than 55,000 terminals is demanding, Alper said the fact that MTS is a "bursty" packet data system—rather than one that generates a steady flow of information—will reduce the time any particular unit uses the satellite system. Comtech Mobile Datacom developed its own MTS terminals using commercial off-the-shelf computers and GPS receivers.The MTS contract is open to all federal agencies, and Alper envisions opportunities to serve military customers outside the Army as well as civilian law enforcement agencies.

The Army wants to field MTS quickly—in "a matter of months," according to Kevin Sommers, a contracting specialist at the Communications-Electronics Command's Computer Acquisition Center-Washington.

The Army first plans to conduct an "end-to-end test" of Comtech Mobile Datacom's architecture with systems fielded in Germany and Georgia and then start a rollout, Sommers said. "This is a commercial system, so we expect quick fielding," he said.

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MTS At a Glance

* 50,000 vehicles tracked worldwide using GPS

* 39,000 vehicles equipped with moving map displays

* 4,750 control stations at battle field command posts

* Satellite-based messaging to and from vehicles

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