WASHINGTON — A House Armed Services Committee panel is urging the U.S. Defense Department to take unspecified steps to accelerate the use of long-delayed terminals for the Navy’s next-generation mobile satellite communications system.

The terminals for the Navy’s four-satellite Mobile User Objective System are 21 months behind schedule. The first MUOS satellite launched in February 2012 and a second launched in July 2013. 

Built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, California, the MUOS constellation is designed to provide smartphone-like communications to mobile forces at rates 10 times faster than the legacy system.

But in March, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said more than 90 percent of the first satellite’s on-orbit capabilities are being underutilized because of delays with the terminal program.“Military forces are relying on legacy communication terminals and are not able to take advantage of the superior capabilities offered by the MUOS satellites,” Cristina Chaplain, director of acquisition and sourcing management  said in written testimony submitted to the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee in March.

The House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, in marking up its portion of the defense authorization bill for 2015, said it is “disappointed with this lack of synchronization in delivery of capability to the warfighter.” The draft bill directs the secretary of the Navy and the Pentagon’s top acquisition official to submit a plan for accelerating the fielding of the terminals to the full House Armed Services Committee by Dec. 1.

The strategic forces portion of the bill, which among other things deals with military space programs, was approved by the subcommittee April 30 and now awaits approval by the full committee.

The Navy, meanwhile, has sponsored two different testing labs for MUOS radio and terminal vendors to “more easily and quickly integrate and test the MUOS waveform on their existing products and compete for future radio/terminal contracts,” said Steven A. Davis, a spokesman for Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in San Diego. Army officials have said three companies were expected to begin using the labs in March.

On April 22, General Dynamics C4 Systems of Scottsdale, Arizona, announced it had opened one the labs, which simulates a full MUOS ground station. 

Terminal manufacturer Rockwell Collins of Cedar Rapids, Iowa,  began testing its ARC-201 radio at the facility in March, according to the General Dynamics press release. 

“The MUOS Radio Testing Lab in Scottsdale will help the U.S. military and government to cost-effectively and efficiently add MUOS-capable radios to their communications network,” Chris Marzilli, president of General Dynamics C4 Systems, said in the release. “This brings this critical operational capability even closer to being available to military and government personnel.”

Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin announced April 30 recent activity at its own testing facility. Lockheed Martin said the Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Florida, used its lab to connect the AN/PRC-117G Falcon 3 radio to MUOS. 

Harris has more than 30,000 of the radios, which would require an update as well as certification from U.S Strategic Command to connect to MUOS. 

Those radios are among more than 55,000 currently in-use terminals that could be upgraded for full MUOS capability as early as 2016, Dave Helseth, Lockheed Martin’s director of systems engineering, integration and test, said in the release. “Our simulation lab helps providers quickly complete their integration work and move forward with government certification,” he said.

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Mike Gruss is a senior staff writer for SpaceNews. He joined the publication in January 2013 to cover military space. Previously, he worked as a reporter and columnist for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. and The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind. He...