ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (1 July, 2014) -- Keeping in mind lessons learned from the drawdown in Iraq, the Army is six months ahead of schedule with the completion of its enduring Deployable Ku Band Earth Terminal (DKET) satellite footprint in Afghanistan, avoiding potential retrograde challenges at the height of the exodus.
"Towards the end the of process in the Iraq drawdown, when units and equipment were all leaving, transportation got bottlenecked, creating a challenge for all the various program offices to get their equipment out of the country," said Marc Crudo, DKET lead for Project Manager Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (PM WIN-T), which provides the Army's tactical communications network backbone. "So we're keeping that thought in the back of our heads and trying to move things to the left whenever possible to stay ahead of the curve."
For nearly a year Crudo was deployed to Afghanistan to lead retrograde activities for PM WIN-T theater provided equipment (TPE) and to serve as the in-country representative for the WIN-T Increment 1, Increment 2 and Satellite Communications (SATCOM) contracts. He was tasked with maximizing the reuse of WIN-T equipment in support of other missions.
When units leave Afghanistan they turn in their WIN-T and SATCOM TPE over to the program office as part of the retrograde process. In the next several months, many units are scheduled to return to the U.S. and retrograde resources and flight availability could begin to tighten. With this in mind, PM WIN-T moved the de-installation, shipment and relocation of its large DKET satellite terminals up in the retrograde process, completing the enduring DKET footprint six months ahead of schedule and well ahead of the main drawdown thrust. All terminals designated to remain are installed and operational, with all de-installations expected to be completed by early summer.
During the height of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), a much larger DKET footprint was spread across Afghanistan to support combat operations, but the U.S. mission has since shifted, with forces there now serving in advise-and-assist missions in support of the Afghan National Security Forces. The U.S.-led OEF mission gives way to North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO's) Resolute Support (RS), but just how many U.S. forces will remain in Afghanistan after 2014 and for how long is still undetermined. With U.S. troops returning to the states, a smaller footprint is required, prompting the Army to return some terminals back to the U.S. and move others from closing bases to enduring locations within Afghanistan.
"Deployed Soldiers are our number one priority and it's vital that the proper mix and quantities of SATCOM and network equipment remain in theater to support enduring operations for as long as needed," said Lt. Col. Leonard Newman, PM WIN-T's product manager for SATCOM, which manages the DKET program. "At the same time, the program office is efficiently conducting its retrograde efforts and reallocating the equipment that is no longer required in Afghanistan to ensure the most cost-effective utilization of these resources."
The Army's DKETs are part of the WIN-T network architecture, which provides high-speed, high-capacity voice, data and video communications both at-the-halt and on-the-move. DKETs were designed to support larger hub and higher headquarters locations for long haul transport both intra- and inter-theater. As part of the enduring DKET footprint in Afghanistan, the newer Ka-band DKETs, which can access both commercial satellites and the military's Wideband Global SATCOM satellites, were installed at enduring locations. Legacy Ku-band DKETs that only access commercial satellites were de-installed from closing bases and were either used for spare parts or re-purposed for other missions, both in support of remaining forces in Afghanistan and other operations worldwide.
The redeployment and reuse of a single DKET can realize a cost avoidance of more than $1.4 million (the cost of buying a new unit less the cost of refurbishing a used unit), as well as the significant time savings in not having to acquire brand new equipment. Relocating, reinstalling and repurposing DKETs for other missions or spare parts during the retrograde has realized a significant cost avoidance of $21.5 million in fiscal year 2014.
Additionally, to support the enduring SATCOM footprint, the WIN-T program office opened a warehouse in Afghanistan to store SATCOM TPE spares, working with the 401st Army Field Support Brigade and Task Force Signal, the theater arm of the 160th Signal Brigade in charge of communications equipment retrograde. This forward depot houses spares for DKETs and the smaller Secure Internet Protocol Router/Non-secure Internet Protocol (SIPR/NIPR) Access Point (SNAP) satellite terminals, as well as technical control facilities. The new warehouse is expected to significantly reduce equipment turnaround time and cost. The Army estimates the cost of shipping one of these large DKETs in and out of theater is approximately $150,000, roughly $6.50 per pound. If legacy assets are kept at the warehouse for parts, some of which can weigh thousands of pounds, the Army can avoid these costs.
"Having this warehouse in Afghanistan with spares on-site enables us to be more efficient overall in our support of enduring operations," Crudo said.
Now that the DKET footprint in OEF has been reduced, the Army is employing its much smaller SNAP ground satellite terminals to help fill SATCOM gaps. The easily transportable SNAPs are providing the necessary network backbone needed to support communications for forward operating bases. Beyond those needed resources, nearly 103 recovered SNAP terminals have been shipped back to the U.S. as of early May to be repurposed or stored for future missions.
"The operational footprint continues to diminish in OEF, but we will still have forces there that need to communicate," Newman said. "Planning for the unknown is a challenge, so PdM SATCOM has postured the Army's SATCOM resources to support multiple contingencies of U.S. troops remaining on the ground."