TOBYHANNA ARMY DEPOT, Pa. (Nov. 26, 2013 ) -- Team Tobyhanna is taking a pioneering approach to installing the Army's next generation SATCOM ground terminals using a plan that exceeds the depot's annual Value Engineering Proposal cost avoidance goal by more than 276 percent.

SATCOM expert Bill Stevens developed a technique for installing the AN/GSC-52B(v)2 Medium Satellite Communications Terminal systems at 16 sites around the world -- resulting in a $30 million savings. The plan's strategy hinges on the decommissioning and dismantling process of the aging AN/FSC-78 Satellite Communications Terminal Antenna Systems.

A few months ago, Team Tobyhanna specialists traveled to the first site -- 298th Signal Company, Fort Detrick, Md. -- to set the Value Engineering Proposal, known as VEP, plan in motion. Depot personnel are ready to install the new antenna as part of the Modernization of Enterprise Terminals, or MET, program.

Tobyhanna's VEP describes how the massive reinforced concrete cylinder base for the AN/FSC-78 can be cut down from 21 feet to 12 inches above ground level. Furthermore, Stevens suggested a square pad be formed over the remnants to allow the new MET antenna to be installed at ground level. Stevens is the lead mechanical engineering technician in the Production Engineering Directorate's SATCOM Engineering Branch.

The base weighs 315,000 pounds, measures 20 feet in diameter, with walls 21 feet tall and 34- to 12-inches thick, from top to bottom. A contractor will use a diamond wire saw to cut the base into manageable parts.

The plan is to have Team Tobyhanna travel from site to site, conduct the de-install and pad refurbishment, then move to the next site. With the exception of cutting the base, depot personnel will accomplish all tasks associated with this project.

The VEP results in a cost avoidance of nearly $2 million per site, in contrast to a contractor's proposal, which added expense and increased risk to the project. Stevens explained that the contractor's idea for converting the existing antenna base to support the new system was estimated to cost $2.15 million per site because everything needed to be lifted and installed over 25 feet off the ground rather than at ground level. Safety was a concern because some components could weigh up to 40,000 pounds and the proposed longer electrical cables could compromise the antenna's signal strength, he added.

At Tobyhanna, Stevens is known for his conceptual ideas.

"It's just a way of looking at things," he said. "Of course, it also helps to get your ideas vetted through the right people."

It's important to share ideas with other personnel, according to Stevens. He recommends teaming up with several colleagues to determine if any idea has merit. Electronics Engineer Jim Waters heard about the design and pushed the team to turn the idea into a VEP.

"Tobyhanna submits few VE proposals because of the stringent and specific validation requirements," said Waters, Value Engineering Study facilitator. He works in the Productivity Improvement and Innovation Directorate's Research and Analysis Division.

"I thought this was a great idea. It was innovative," said Gene Curran, lead mechanical engineer, Production Engineering Directorate's Design and Development Branch.

Curran conducted a Finite Element analysis to determine how much wind force the MET could withstand at the new height. Normally the antennas are rated for 120 mph.

"Things have to be exact for the system to work properly," Stevens said, explaining that operators tracking a geosynchronous satellite have to keep the METs 40-foot parabolic dish in line with the satellite's six-foot dish that's 26,000 miles away. If the antenna moves with the wind, it's not going to track and communications will be lost.

"Gene's job was not only to see how much wind it would take to pull it [the antenna] over, but to make sure we were rigid enough so that outside forces won't affect how it operates."

Soldiers assigned to Fort Detrick's 298th Signal Company are responsible for advising the commander on all aspects that affect the operations of the SATCOM ground terminals, according to CW2 Michael Brondsema, network management technician and site manager.

"I have been extremely impressed with Bill Stevens and his crew," Brondsema said. "They have always presented themselves in a professional manner, and ensured that the unit was always aware of what actions were happening."

Once Curran determined the antenna would remain stable, the project was turned over to Chris Sheerer, structural engineer, Public Works Directorate's Engineering Division. He figured out how to construct the concrete pad within the established standards.

"I like the simplicity of the idea, that's really the beauty of this project," Sheerer said. "I knew Bill's idea would work, I just wanted to make sure of the details."

Clearly the AN/FSC-78 was larger, heavier and had a bigger parabolic dish, Sheerer said, adding that it was important to make sure the new, lighter antenna fit properly. The biggest hurdle was to make sure the design would anchor the new concrete to the existing pad, making the foundation rigid enough to support the MET antenna, he noted.

Team Tobyhanna is pouring a 24x24 foot concrete pad on top of the existing 42-foot diameter disc foundation.

Even though the antennas are the same, each location presents several variables for the base. For instance, in Bahrain, buildings are encroaching on the system, leaving little room to perform maintenance. Other systems need to clear the roofs of the buildings around them. Plus, some of the sites need to incorporate a radome that will house the antenna system.

Stevens pointed out that this solution provides a degree of flexibility that takes into account the location and surroundings. Personnel are able to cut the pedestal to any height to accommodate the needs of the customer.

"Our relationship with all of the Tobyhanna personnel supporting this project is part of a collective team working together to achieve a common goal -- completion of this project efficiently while keeping safety at the forefront," said Chris Potter, 21st Signal Brigade Operations and Plans. "It's an honor to serve with this great group of professionals. The quality of support our unit has received for this project is commensurate with the long standing tradition of excellence Tobyhanna Army Depot is known for."

In April 2009, the Army launched the MET program to upgrade its aging fleet of enterprise strategic SATCOM ground terminals. The MET terminals will allow Defense Department services access to increased satellite bandwidth and will reduce acquisition and life-cycle logistics costs for Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps users. The program is managed by the Project Manager Defense Communications and Army Transmission Systems, Program Executive Office Enterprise Information Systems.


Tobyhanna Army Depot is the Defense Department's largest center for the repair, overhaul and fabrication of a wide variety of electronics systems and components, from tactical field radios to the ground terminals for the defense satellite communications network. Tobyhanna's missions support all branches of the Armed Forces.

About 3,700 personnel are employed at Tobyhanna, which is located in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania. Tobyhanna Army Depot is part of the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command. Headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., the command's mission is to research, develop, acquire, field and sustain communications, command, control computer, intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors capabilities for the Armed Forces.