SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Feb. 11, 2015) -- The Army and Navy are working in lockstep to meet the demands of today's always-connected Soldiers and Sailors while addressing the unique communications challenges of the Asia-Pacific theater, senior leaders said.
Speaking during a "fireside chat" panel at the West 2015 defense and technology exhibition this week, Army Maj. Gen. Daniel P. Hughes and Navy Rear Adm. Christian "Boris" Becker stressed the importance of joint cooperation and incremental modernization to deliver systems that enable expeditionary operations by providing U.S. forces with resilient communications in the harshest environments.
The new Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) capability offers a prime example of this collaboration, in both program management and systems engineering, between the services and industry partners, Becker said.
"A great team has made this happen," said Becker, the Navy Program Executive Officer for Space Systems. "Leadership across program lines is key to MUOS success."
Hughes agreed, stressing that the integrated nature of MUOS -- comprised of satellites, ground stations, radios, waveforms and network management software -- requires a holistic yet adaptable approach to deliver a technology that ultimately will benefit thousands of joint users.
"We put away service equities to field a needed capability -- we all work together to get the mission done," said Hughes, the Army Program Executive Officer for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (C3T). "We want to get the capability out without worries about who gets credit."
MUOS, on track to achieve full operational capability in 2017, will use Earth-orbiting satellites as the equivalent of cell phone towers in space, providing smartphone-like service that keeps users connected to high-quality voice and mission data while on the move and in challenging urban, jungle or mountainous terrain. It will connect U.S. forces on ships; in submarines, aircraft, and vehicles; and while dismounted and on the move -- providing the vital link between troops in advanced positions or remote areas and the rest of the Department of Defense (DoD) military global network.
Combined with other technologies in that integrated, Internet Protocol-based network, MUOS will improve resilient communications by providing multiple paths for information to take -- which is critical to keep troops connected in tough environments where some routes may be blocked. The network's growing mobility and versatility will eliminate the need for fixed signal retransmission locations, allowing Soldiers to cover more ground and in support of evolving Army doctrine on expeditionary operations, Hughes said.
"It changes the way we can deploy Soldiers," he said.
Resilient communications are particularly important in the Asia-Pacific theater, the leaders said, due to the sheer distances the military must cover and the deployment of small teams who need to connect immediately upon arrival and retain reach-back throughout their missions. The theater's characteristics also require more collaboration between service branches, making joint command and control systems essential.
"Soldiers and Sailors today have different expectations. They demand connectivity," Becker said. "For them and for the next generation, we need to leverage all the resources and innovation that the joint services and our industry partners bring to the fight."
Attended by approximately 200 government and industry representatives, the panel took place on the second day of the West 2015 event, which is co-sponsored by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) and the U.S. Naval Institute. In addition to a question-and-answer session, the panel also featured video footage of the Jan. 20 launch of the MUOS-3 satellite from Cape Canaveral, Fla. -- a key milestone in the march toward MUOS full operational capability in 2017.
As it continues to grow toward its eventual five-satellite constellation, the holistic MUOS system is also progressing through a series of rigorous developmental and operational tests, as well as capability demonstrations in a variety of challenging environments, from the Arctic Circle to the Pacific to onboard aircraft while in-flight. MUOS will provide satellite communications in the narrowband spectrum, which is less than 2 percent of total DoD bandwidth but represents more than 50 percent of all DoD satellite communication users.
The Navy's Communications Satellite Program Office has overall responsibility to deliver MUOS end-to-end capability. It is supported by the Army's Project Manager for Tactical Radios, which supplies the software-defined radio hardware that will allow troops to access MUOS, and Project Manager Joint Tactical Networks, which provides the MUOS waveform and network management system. The Joint Tactical Networking Center maintains a repository of secure networking waveforms for the DoD, which allows for interoperability across the joint services and continuous upgrades to waveform capability based on evolving needs and threats.
The MUOS waveform is part of that repository and available to industry, enabling a competitive environment where different vendors can develop or upgrade terminals and radios that support MUOS. Six vendors have already evaluated their hardware's connectivity with MUOS by using three laboratories that opened in 2014.
This competitive radio marketplace will not only lower costs for the military, but encourage industry to innovate in areas such as weight, processing power, battery life and antenna technology, Hughes said.
"We want you to know where we are going, and we want the ideas to come from you," he told the industry members in attendance. "We're building the network to provide the backbone to plug in the new apps, plug in the new devices, to get the best ideas and move out."