Radio Makers Announce Milestones for Troubled MUOS Satellite Terminal Programs

By Stew Magnuson

SAN DIEGO — Radio manufacturers announced that they have achieved important milestones in the fielding of terminals that will connect to the Navy’s long-delayed Mobile User Objective System communications satellites.

Rockwell Collins and Lockheed Martin conducted airborne testing of the MUOS and the new wideband code divisional multiple access (WCDMA) waveform using the latest generation of the ARC-210 airborne software defined radio, Rockwell Collins said in a statement released during the MILCOM conference Nov. 19. The radio will provide UHF protected satellite communications for all the services and the Defense Department.

Meanwhile, AN/PRC-155 two-channel Manpack radios successfully completed secure voice and data calls from Alaska and the Arctic Circle using a digital waveform to connect with the a MUOS satellite and ground communications network. The demonstration’s success was a “significant operational milestone” for the terminal, according to a statement by its developer, General Dynamics C4 Systems.

The tests provided some good news for a program that has been beset by delays. The MUOS program has served as a poster child of Defense Department inefficiency, notably for terminal programs that are not synchronized with military communication satellites. The long-standing problem is that the service that launches the satellite — in this case the Navy, but more often the Air Force — doesn't have any control over the programs responsible for developing and fielding the radios and terminals. This has resulted in satellites sent to orbit without radios being in place. In other cases radios were unable to operate while they awaited delayed satellites.

Earlier in the conference, Lt. Gen. John A. Toolan Jr., commanding general of 1 Marine Expeditionary Force, slammed the Army administered joint tactical radio system, JTRS, program for delays delivering the software that operate the terminals.

"We have been waiting a while for that thing (MUOS) to be developed. It will be a great leap forward in satellite capacity, but it should have been with us years ago. ... We need the MUOS capability ASAP," he said.

Meanwhile, the commercial Iridium satellite network, which is serving as a stopgap for on-the-move communications, is performing well, he said.

The first MUOS was launched behind schedule in 2012, but the terminals are still under development. The second MUOS satellite was launched in July. The two spacecraft were sent to orbit with legacy payloads that allow them to connect to older, analog radios. The satellite’s builder, Lockheed Martin, is under contract to build three more.

“This joint testing provided Lockheed Martin with important system operation data,” Paul Scearce, Lockheed’s director of military space advanced programs, said in a statement. “The ARC-210 provided consistent, fast processing and locking on to the MUOS channel. MUOS WCDMA will provide in excess of 16 times improvement over legacy waveforms. Along with a modern all-IP dynamic network, MUOS will enable tremendous communications-on-the-move flexibility for the war fighter.”   

Testing was conducted in two phases. During phase one, a series of ground tests was used to monitor MUOS parameters and collect data. The ARC-210 was mounted into a commercial variant of a C-130 for airborne testing that covered signal acquisition during various flight profiles at speeds of up to 300 knots, the statement said. The ARC-210 was able to successfully demonstrate repeatable MUOS signal acquisition, thus becoming the first airborne-qualified radio to conduct MUOS testing in a live flight environment, the statement said.

The AN/PRC-155 two-channel Manpack radios were exposed to sub-freezing temperatures and high arctic winds. It is the first military radio to deliver secure voice and data connectivity with the MUOS system from the highest latitudes on the planet, said Chris Marzilli, president of General Dynamics C4 Systems, in a statement. “The success of this demonstration proves that with a MUOS-capable PRC-155 Manpack radio, soldiers operating in extreme and isolated locations will always be connected to the soldier’s network.”

The demonstration took place in mid-October and included operational scenarios that included fixed-site locations around Anchorage and Barrow, Alaska, and aboard aircraft flying throughout the Arctic Circle. During the demonstration, the radio completed multiple one-to-one voice and data calls as well as conference calls connecting more than five participants, the statement said.

Reaching the MUOS satellite communications network from high latitudes is particularly challenging because of the physics associated with how radio signals reach the MUOS satellites in geosynchronous orbit around the equator, according to the statement.

Rear Adm. Robert E. Day Jr., assistant commandant for C4IT, and commander of the Coast Guard Cyber Command, said at the conference that communications in the Arctic is "very, very challenging."

"We are starting to see more and more operations up there each and every day, and the new MUOS implementation is starting to show some real promise in that area," Day said.

Topics: Infotech, Science and Engineering Technology, Space

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