MET commissioning
A Modernized Enterprise Terminal (MET) is commissioned April 16, 2016, at the U.S. Navy Wahiawa Satellite Communications Facility Hawaii. The U.S. Army Information Systems Engineering Command contributed engineering expertise to bring the terminal online. (Photo Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Ensign Denise Baumeister) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. — As the Department of Defense faces ever-increasing demands for secure voice, data and video communications, it counts on a network of orbiting satellites and earth-based terminals to empower its global operations. It also counts on the U.S. Army Information Systems Engineering Command, which plays a key role in ensuring units stay connected via critical satellite communications, or SATCOM.

For more than 10 years, one of the DOD’s most important SATCOM projects has been the Modernization of Enterprise Terminals, which is replacing approximately 90 aging, bandwidth-limited terminals with upgraded, state-art-of-the-art systems. These terminals are permanently located in strategic locations worldwide where they can support all of the joint forces.

Although many DOD organizations touch and enable the MET program, USAISEC, part of the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command, is one of the most important. In the words of Brad Snyder, enterprise SATCOM group leader, USAISEC is “the organization that makes MET work.”

A meticulous process

The process of replacing a MET terminal is far more complex than simply ripping out old equipment and installing the same boilerplate upgrades. It starts months earlier, as USAISEC examines requirements and evaluates the site to determine whether the location is even capable of supporting an upgraded terminal.

“What would it need to make that happen? We write it down and submit it to the customer,” Snyder said. “That tells them everything that needs to be done to make that location support a MET.”

USAISEC’s primary MET customer is Army Product Manager Wideband Enterprise Satellite Systems, which manages the master DOD MET schedule and contract with the equipment manufacturer. But customers also include Air Force Wideband Enterprise Terminals; the Defense Information Systems Agency, which manages MET requirements for the Navy; and the Missile Defense Agency.

Next, the customer hires an organization to do the site work, often the Tobyhanna Army Depot. Approximately 12 Tobyhanna technicians install the MET package, including the antenna, pedestal and systems in the adjacent electronics equipment building, or EEB. This process usually takes three months, during which an USAISEC engineer is present for one month to provide engineering support in the EEB.

EEB work
U.S. Army Information Systems Engineering Command electronics engineer Julia Ye works in the Electronics Equipment Building at a MET project at Eareckson Air Station, Alaska. (Photo Credit: Submitted photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

USAISEC’s role picks up significantly after installation is complete, as three of its experts perform two weeks of testing with Tobyhanna installers present to identify and fix any issues. Tobyhanna installers then typically depart, and USAISEC performs an additional five weeks of intensive testing.

“This isn’t simple pass or fail testing,” Snyder said. “For example, when the test tells me the receive level is too low, we don’t just mark it — we fix it.”

After the customer completes new equipment training, the process culminates with the weeklong joint systems acceptance test. This test proves to U.S. Strategic Command and the Defense Information Systems Agency that the terminal is ready to bring fully online. About 30% of MET terminals are have radome coverings installed after the acceptance test, followed by a week of USAISEC system verification.

A Modernized Enterprise Terminal inside a radome at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. (Photo Credit: Master Sgt. Joshua Strang) VIEW ORIGINAL

System engineering

USAISEC’s engineers look at the MET as a system, making many complex parts work together within the EEB, antenna hub and pedestal. Because MET terminals operate in both X and Ka bands, they can transmit much more data than their predecessor system, which only operated in X band.

However, working with MET dual-band equipment requires special expertise, Snyder noted. “They’re basically two terminals meshed into one,” he said. “The only thing they share is the reflector and antenna structure. Physically cramming all that equipment into the same space is challenging.”

He pointed to USAISEC’s more than 40 years of experience with earth terminal programs, as well as its strong partnerships, for how it gets the job done right. “As we’ve teamed with Tobyhanna to serve our customers, we’ve gained a lot of efficiencies,” Snyder said.

Thus far, the MET program has completed approximately two-thirds of the terminals slated for upgrade, with completion expected in 2025.