REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- The Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site (RTS) Operations Center located in Huntsville (ROC-H) made history when it gathered data on a U.S. Air Force Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile flight test.
The ROC-H command and control facility has become the primary RTS command-and-control location for future missions instead of the historic location on the U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll. The RTS recently received a communications upgrade focused on the core networking and communications infrastructure linking Kwajalein to the United States and building a reliable, high bandwidth, low latency network that is crucial to a distributed range in which the instrumentation is operated from more than 7,000 miles away.
"The mission itself, GT-203, was to track a Minuteman III ICBM and support for operational verification testing," said Lt. Col. Brian Soldon, Kwajalein and RTS deputy commander (the continental U.S.), Kwajalein support director and RTS space operation director. "RTS has traditionally supported those missions in terms of the downrange mission to be able to verify that the system is operating correctly. We support these types of tests between two and four times a years for our customer, the U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command.
"The missile is launched out of Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and then impacts in the broad ocean area in the vicinity of Kwajalein Atoll," he added. "RTS sensors normally collects data on the objects to verify that they are operating correctly, both in-flight and as they impact."
The RTS is a world-class range and test facility located 2,300 miles southwest of Hawaii on Kwajalein, Republic of the Marshall Islands. Its unique instrumentation sensors, including high-fidelity metric and signature radars, as well as optical sensors and telemetry, play a vital role in the research, development, test and evaluation in support of America's defense and space programs.
One of the goals completed was the RTS Distributed Operations (RDO) program which transferred RTS from a locally operated range to a globally operated national asset. Started in 2006, the RDO program created an enhanced distributed operations control capability that leverages high-speed networks, advanced algorithms and instrumentation control technology to enable RTS operations from Huntsville.
"The ROC-H transforms RTS from a locally-operated range to a globally-connected national asset that allows distributed control of operations from CONUS," said Thomas E. Webber, SMDC/ARSTRAT Technical Center interim deputy director. "Distributed operations increase our ability to support the Warfighter. Operating from ROC-H also increases accessibility to our customers and makes using RTS more cost effective. The ROC-H network connectivity allows interoperability with other test ranges, sensors and elements."
A key advantage of a distributed center is a common environment that allows better utilization of personnel by streamlining mission operations. Primary operations will be conducted from Huntsville while a backup mission capability is still retained at Kwajalein.
"From our perspective, what we did that was somewhat new was that we used the ROC-H as the primary command and control center for RTS instrumentation," Soldon said. "This was the primary center, although it was not the only location, because truly what we are standing up is an RTS Distributed Operation. What that means is we have the ability to have command and control of RTS missions and many of the instrumentation sensors from here, and we are also capable of efficiently utilizing on-island personnel to execute some aspects of the mission as well.
"Data is transferred here so that analysis can take place," he added. "When it comes to instrumentation, it varies in terms of what is required or what is mandatory. In this operation, quite a few sensors were involved and we controlled many of them from 7,000 miles away. It was pretty impressive for our first time."
The RDO program will benefit RTS customers in several key ways. RTS system engineers and mission planners will be available centrally in Huntsville, co-located with several major RTS customers. The ability to have the operations center here will simplify and expand the interaction with the customers.
"The significance of the operation was that it was the first mission use of our ability to command and control RTS instrumentation with our distributed operations concept," Soldon said. "It worked as well as our previous operations which were commanded and controlled from Kwajalein, and in a lot of cases better because some of the ROC-H equipment has been upgraded and is more reliable."
In 2009, the final connection of an undersea fiber optic cable connected USAKA/RTS to U.S. government facilities on Guam. This new cable was tied into the existing fiber optic cable that connected Guam to the west coast of the United States. By using this cable, USAKA/RTS no longer had to rely on satellite connections resulting in a more secure, faster link for sending test data for customers.
"Because we are now using fiber optics instead of satellites we don't have as much time delay in our data transfer capability," Soldon said. "It is that added capability that allows us now to significantly reduce our on-island footprint, and thereby our operating costs, for our customers as well as RTS."
Customers will benefit from the range being "closer" through reduced flight times and lesser time zone differences for training, demonstrations, mission planning and mission execution than has been experienced with Kwajalein-based RTS support. Further, the availability of data, both real-time and post-mission will be greatly improved.
From the ROC-H, customers will be able to view their mission in real-time as it unfolds and the reduced cost and increased convenience will enable customers to allow more of their personnel to view the mission.
Given the ability to view the mission in real-time from the control center, only those mission support functions requiring access to physical assets will need to deploy to Kwajalein. Customers can realize cost savings by deploying fewer personnel to the atoll.
"It is nice to hear from our customers that we are doing things that no one else has ever done," Soldon said. "Our ability to truly utilize the concept of net-centric operations is beyond where just about everybody else is. In that regard, the ability to command and control on a day-to-day basis is something that is going to set the standard for how things are done in the future.
"It feels great to be a part of this," he added.
And with more technical jobs and customers coming to Huntsville instead of Kwajalein, that means more money will be spent on the local economy as well as the government saving more taxpayer money because of the higher costs of supporting individuals on the island.
"There is a great sense of accomplishment," said Tim Kirchner, RTS technical director. "We, (RTS government, Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Lincoln Laboratory and contractor workforce) have successfully executed a tremendous amount of work, all the way from initial concept to development, prototyping, architecture selection, design, development, integration and testing leading to implementation of this operational capability. We performed a large number of tests while following a very extensive validation and acceptance test plan. Our testing has given us a tremendous amount of confidence in the ability of our system to perform efficiently and effectively.
"We went into this mission with a lot of confidence so we could go to our customers and say we know that this system is going to work," he added. "Our customer believed in us, we moved forward and it was a great, resounding success. We couldn't be happier."