By U.S. Army Communications-Electronics CommandJanuary 25, 2019
On the Korean peninsula, our Army is charged with a single top priority: readiness to fight tonight, in any location and under any conditions, to defend our South Korean allies. That means the critical equipment that empowers that fight must be as expeditionary as possible: light, easy to transport and quick to configure with only a moment's notice.
For Army logisticians who sustain their units with critical supplies, repair resources and parts, one of their most important tools is the Combat Service Support Very Small Aperture Terminal (CSS VSAT), a mobile satellite terminal found everywhere they operate. Originally fielded in 2004, this workhorse was game changing for logisticians, allowing them to complete supply transactions and receive real-time status updates with critical logistics systems, such as the Global Combat Support System-Army (GCSS-A), from any location.
But as CSS VSAT nears the end of its lifespan, it does not meet the Army's current operational needs for readiness in Korea. Big and heavy, weighing approximately 500 pounds when packed into its five cases, this limits Soldiers' ability to quickly transport and deploy the system, often in challenging terrain.
The legacy CSS VSAT also has an automatic satellite acquisition mechanism housed in a very large pedestal. However, if Soldiers point the dish in the wrong direction when they turn on auto-acquire, the pedestal can and does overextend and easily break, requiring shipment off the Korean peninsula for repair in CONUS. Since June 2017, the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) has replaced 120 pedestals and is repairing 60 more, hamstringing readiness. In addition, the pedestal manufacturer plans to phase out production of replacement parts in 2019.
Moreover, today our Army has adopted the warfighting doctrine of Multi-Domain Operations (MDO), which considers a single combined battlespace across all of air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace. The character of warfare is shifting toward small, agile, dispersed units, often fighting in dense urban environments. This increases the need for expeditionary sustainment to keep these units in the fight.
Given these factors, the Army needs an answer to improve the CSS VSAT, right now. And it has one in the Inflatable Satellite Antenna (ISA).
An Expeditionary Expansion
The ISA is a lightweight, versatile satellite terminal that offers numerous improvements over the current CSS VSAT. On the surface, the ISA looks very different than the legacy version, since its dish sits inside a 1.2-meter inflatable ball manufactured by GATR Technologies, a subsidiary of the Cubic Corporation. The ISA is far more expeditionary than the legacy version, because it only weighs approximately 150 pounds and packs into just two cases. What's more, two Soldiers can easily set up the ISA in less than 30 minutes, compared to more than 45 minutes for the previous system.
"The ISA was super easy to learn," said Staff Sgt. Amanda Kornoelje of the 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command in Daegu, South Korea. "We could have learned it in two days."
The ISA is a proven solution for the Army, because it is the same portable terminal as the Transportable Tactical Command Communications (T2C2) Lite, a program of record that provides voice and data communications for operational command posts. This use of common equipment means the ISA is already available in the Army supply system.
One significant difference -- the ISA does not have the auto-acquire feature that created problems with the legacy CSS VSAT. While this may give some operators pause, they will not need auto-acquire to orient and configure the ISA. With simple training and a little practice, they will be able to easily find the azimuth, point the satellite, and adjust to acquire a satellite. And if they need help, it is available 24/7 through the Integrated Network Operations Center, phone number 309-644-5000, and their Sustainment Automation Support Management Office (SASMO). The SASMO can also contact CECOM Field Support Representatives and Logistics Assistances Representatives for additional troubleshooting if needed.
"I don't have anybody in the formation that is a GATR expert but the thing is pretty simple," said Col. Joseph M. Pishock, commander of the 1st Signal Brigade, 8th Army, in South Korea. "Get them the gear and they will be experts in a couple days."
One Tough "Beach Ball"
The original CSS VSAT operates only in the commercial Ku band, a major liability if adversaries can jam that band. However, the ISA can operate not only in Ku, but in the military X and Ka bands as well. This gives operators more flexibility to switch bands for different circumstances and in case adversaries jam any one band. The Army is also replacing all Combat Service Support Automated Information System Interface (CAISI) configuration laptops with new units that provide better cybersecurity.
Despite its vulnerable appearance, the ISA is extremely durable. Thanks to its variable power fan, it will not pop like a balloon if punctured. The ISA is also better able to withstand interference, because wind tends to travel around its round shape, rather than getting caught in the "sail" shape of an exposed satellite dish. At 25 watts, its block upconverter used in the uplink transmission is six times more powerful than the version on the legacy CSS VSAT, which helps overcome interference. Its skin has a typical lifespan of 3--5 years, depending on use. CECOM will manage reskinning when needed.
Training, Fielding and the Future
Training will be important to ensure operators and maintainers are ready to deploy and support the initial 125 ISAs that the Army will field in Korea. However, once operators are trained, quick setup will become second nature.
Courses are now taking place with the Eighth Army and the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea, running through spring 2019. After Korea, CECOM and PEO Enterprise Information Systems will field 197 ISAs to CONUS-based Focused Readiness Units--select units to be prepared for any contingency operation--through the rest of fiscal year 2019. Training for FRUs will take place concurrently in CONUS.