As the senior Army logistics headquarters for the Pacific, the 8th Theater Sustainment Command is charged with synchronizing logistics efforts throughout the world's largest theater of operations and leverages many unique capabilities, including a diverse fleet of Army watercraft. Maintaining, crewing supporting waterborne logistics and contingencies over 9,000 miles and in 34 countries presents a variety of communications challenges and requires multiple platforms that can operate and communicate at sea.
Within the Pacific Theater, the 8th TSC manages three logistics support vessels (LSV) and two landing craft utility (LCU) vessels. These ships are strategic assets which enable joint and Army forces to transport equipment, personnel, and cargo in degraded or austere ports. The larger LSV is capable of transporting an entire tank company to shallow terminal areas.
Ensuring the fleet can communicate with the command and other elements in their area in any environment provides unique mission command opportunities as well as complex signal requirements.
"Communication at sea is a matter of life or death. It is crucial for any vessel to establish appropriate communication channels with other vessels in addition to traffic and harbor control," said CW4 Hosni, the 8th TSC Master of Maritime Operations. "Army Watercraft has to maintain communications with civilian and military authorities. As a vessel master I must ensure that I can effectively and safely navigate my vessel through congested waterways using bridge to bridge VHF Radio, while being responsible for the safety of the vessel and its crew, which may require me to contact the Coast Guard and or the Navy on a secure network."
The vessels employ distinct maritime tracking and communications systems managed through the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare program. This equipment is complemented by a traditional suite of Army platforms to provide normal and secret internet, tactical satellite (TACSAT), and Blue force tracker (BFT) capabilities. However, operating on the expansive Pacific Ocean pushes the limitations of all equipment. Large gaps in BFT spot beam coverage and limited satellite bandwidth while underway has forced the command to pursue cutting edge technologies.
"Sailing the high seas is a dangerous business. Systems like the PRC-155 Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) have enhanced our Army Mariner's ability to reach out in a time of crisis," said Hosni. "I have personally experienced real world situations where I needed to request support to deter unfriendly naval forces or pirates. In less threatening but equally urgent situations, crew members had to be evacuated from the vessel for emergency medical treatment. So we greatly appreciate how vital of a role the proper communication systems can make in saving lives."
Issued to the 8th TSC in August 2016, the new PRC-155 MUOS capable radios use a satellite constellation and waveform platform to provide essential capabilities and interoperability for Army watercraft. The PRC-155 MUOS also extends BFT connectivity to enhance in transit visibility. Similar existing technologies are also leveraged to provide interim solutions as MUOS system development continues. One example, the Shout Nano device, uses the Iridium constellation to provide location information and text messaging while relying on a low earth orbit constellation with global coverage.
"The LSV's main mission was inter-Island runs in support of 25th Infantry Division and various U.S. Marine Corps units. This mission changed dramatically when we deployed the LSV for its first of a kind Trans-Pacific ocean mission during Pacific Pathways 15-2," said Hosni.
"This international voyage led us to discover some gaps in coverage using some of the legacy equipment. U.S. Army Pacific and the 8th TSC provided a Shout Nano and it greatly enhanced In-Transit Visibility for the vessel and enabled us to provide an accurate common operating picture for the commander."
Army watercraft represents only one facet of the 8th TSC's communication activities. While sustaining Army forces across the Pacific, the command employs new GATR (T2C2) systems for light weight communications and is upgrading multiple facilities to match Home Station Mission Command Center (HSMCC) capabilities. While simultaneously supporting the communication operations of two distinct subordinate brigades both on-island and abroad, the 8th TSC provides seemingly endless professional development opportunities and contributions to the signal community within the Pacific Theater.
"The opportunity and challenges that Army watercraft present to signal Soldiers are truly unique in our profession," said Lt. Col Victor Deekens, 8th TSC Assistant Chief of Staff, G-6. "We relish the chance to provide communications to Soldiers wherever they are, and we're excited to continue to enhance our Army watercraft capabilities."