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The Case For T-SAT

Higher-capacity links are just the beginning of what makes T-SAT valuable. It will be designed around the same packet-switching technology used on the Internet, which permits much more efficient use of available bandwidth by slicing up messages into brief bursts that can travel through any combination of networks to be reassembled in the proper order at their destination.
by Loren B. Thompson
UPI Commentator
Arlington VA (UPI) May 08, 2007
Imagine how far the American Revolution would have gotten if the Declaration of Independence had been written in Latin. Many of the Founders would have understood it because they were schooled in the classics, but the meaning of the document would have been largely lost outside a small, educated elite. Without widespread understanding of the aspirations and grievances motivating patriots, the revolution might have been stillborn.

That's the problem that the Transformational Communications Satellite, or T-SAT, faces today. Conceived as the centerpiece of a revolution in U.S. military communications, it has the potential to provide warfighters around the globe with Internet-like connectivity to all the resources of the joint forces, regardless of whether they are on the move, under fire or otherwise disadvantaged.

But Congress doesn't understand the program, which to the uninitiated sounds like a raft of other networking initiatives. So funding has been slashed, the date of the first launch has receded, and there is doubt the constellation will ever be built.

Losing T-SAT would be a tragedy, because it can fill many gaps in the existing communications system. It is part of a broader Transformational Communications Architecture fashioned in 2003 to replace the existing patchwork of disconnected networks operated by the U.S. Defense Department, intelligence community and NASA with a single, integrated global grid.

Along with the Wideband Gapfiller System and a handful of other equally esoteric satellites, it would comprise a space segment continuously linked to high-capacity fiber-optic lines on the ground. Fiber uses light to transmit data, which due to its higher frequency, or vibrations per second, can carry much more information than radio-frequency links.

T-SAT would exploit this same principle in space, using laser links to convey vast amounts of information instantly between satellites, and also to aircraft flying high enough above the clouds to avoid interference with light beams. For the last few miles to tactical users on the ground, the information would be translated into slower radio-frequency pulses, but new methods of compressing and combining data flows promise to make even these "RF" links more robust than in the past.

Higher-capacity links are just the beginning of what makes T-SAT valuable. It will be designed around the same packet-switching technology used on the Internet, which permits much more efficient use of available bandwidth by slicing up messages into brief bursts that can travel through any combination of networks to be reassembled in the proper order at their destination.

This "Internet-protocol" approach to connectivity is the key to the World Wide Web, which affords all users easy access to a range of media. T-SAT would deliver the same resources to warfighters under fire in places like Fallujah, so they can see whatever reconnaissance drones and spy satellites are seeing as it happens.

There is more: signals that are nearly impossible for enemies to intercept or jam, bulk encryption of transmissions, dynamic allocation of bandwidth to assure forces under fire get the capacity they need immediately, etc. And all of these advantages would be delivered through ground terminals with receiving dishes barely a foot in diameter, enabling troops to access the global grid under virtually any circumstances. It's obvious that lives would be saved, as would money, by implementing such breakthroughs.

The question is whether Congress can grasp the promise of T-SAT, and keep it on track, even as other legacies of the Rumsfeld years are gradually dismantled.

earlier related report
Lockheed Martin Team Completes Major Design Review For TSAT Program
Sunnyvale CA (SPX) May 08 - A Lockheed Martin Northrop Grumman team has successfully completed a key design review of the Transformational Satellite Communications System (TSAT) Space Segment, signaling the team's readiness to proceed with the next development phase of the program. TSAT will provide thousands of users with wideband, highly mobile, beyond line-of-sight protected communications to support network-centric operations for the future battlefield.

Nearly 300 government representatives from the U.S. Air Force Military Satellite Communications Systems Wing and user communities, including representatives from all services within the Department of Defense, recently completed a three-day Space Segment Design Review (SSDR) at Lockheed Martin Space Systems facilities in Sunnyvale, Calif.

During the review, the team detailed its planned architecture and design approach for TSAT, which will employ high-speed optical communications, Internet Protocol network routing, and communications-on-the-move technologies to deliver a dramatic increase in connectivity, speed, and mobility for the warfighter.

A highlight of the review was an extensive exhibit hall that featured a number of demonstrations and exhibits that summarized technology risk reduction efforts and the team's systems engineering and integration expertise that is being applied to TSAT.

An integrated end-to-end systems and payload testbed demonstrated critical communications-on-the-move and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

"We are extremely pleased with the outcome of this important review," said Joanne Maguire, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space Systems.

"Our TSAT solution builds upon technologies we've pioneered and matured to provide significantly improved, flexible communications for the warfighter. Our team is poised to help our customer achieve mission success on this vitally important program."

TSAT represents the next step toward transitioning the Department of Defense wideband and protected communications satellite architecture into a single network comprising multiple satellite, ground, and user segment components.

The system ultimately will replace the Milstar and Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) programs and provide the Global Information Grid network extension to mobile warfighters, sensors, weapons, and command, control, and communications nodes located on unmanned aerial vehicles, piloted aircraft, on the ground, in the air, at sea or in space.

"The successful space segment design review represents a culmination of a tremendous effort in risk reduction and system design by a highly experienced MILSATCOM team, including the government and industry participants," said Alexis Livanos, president, Northrop Grumman Space Technology.

"TSAT will serve the growing needs for connections and capacity to military forces deployed on a global basis and we look forward to entering the next phase of this important program."

The Lockheed Martin / Northrop Grumman TSAT space segment team is currently working under a $514 million contract for the Risk Reduction and System Definition phase. This effort will culminate with a multi-billion dollar development contract to be awarded to a single contractor in late 2007.

The Military Satellite Communications Systems Wing, located at the Space and Missile Systems Center, Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., is the TSAT contract manager and lead agency for ensuring the capabilities of this system are made available to the warfighter.

(Loren B. Thompson is chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va.-based think tank that supports democracy and the free market.)

Source: United Press International

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Washington DC (ANI) May 08, 2007
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