DOD looks closely at narrowband

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While much of the Defense Department is trying to figure out how to send information to the warfighter at a faster rate through broadband, the department plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on narrowband satellite communication because it offers several advantages over broadband.

In the fiscal 2004 budget request, President Bush has asked for more than $315 million to develop a narrowband tactical satellite system, the Mobile User Objective System. Robert Tarleton, program manager of the communications satellite programs at the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, said narrowband satellite communications, or ultrahigh frequency (UHF), may transmit data at a lower rate but the lower frequencies permit soldiers to transmit data through heavy foliage, during bad weather or in cities with tall buildings.

"Higher [satellite communications] frequencies work fine in clear areas with good weather, but introduce poor weather conditions or jungle foliage, and the signal degrades quickly," he said. "UHF, or narrowband, tends to be the least expensive [satellite communications] system that fulfills a unique requirement of closing the communication link with the tens of thousands of UHF terminals already fielded by DOD worth billions of dollars."

The mobile satellite system will consist of a configuration of satellites, the first of which is scheduled to launch in 2008. Experts said that the capacity of the current UHF system will quickly become outdated and overtaxed.

But Tarleton said the experts at Spawar are not concerned that the technology could be outdated before its scheduled launch because UHF satellite communications have proven to be very reliable for ground forces that don't have the ability to carry a large receiving dish, which is necessary for broadband communications.

Tarleton also said soldiers and Marines have come to increasingly rely on narrowband communications as their missions have become more challenging and isolated.

In fiscal 2002, the program received $34 million; that was increased to $59 million in fiscal 2003.

Tarleton said the large spike in funding from fiscal 2003 and the more

than $300 million requested in 2004 will pay for the award of the

system's risk reduction and design development and acquisitions and

operations support contract. The contract will transition into acquisition and operations, will use one contractor team and is planned to achieve system initial operational capability in 2008 and full operational capability no later than 2013.

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