A senior U.S. Air Force officer acknowledged that changes are in store for the service’s planned Transformational Satellite (T-Sat) communications system, but said work on the ground segment must nonetheless proceed on schedule because of the role that program will play in the U.S. military’s overall network architecture.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, director of the Military Satellite Communications Joint Program Office at Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles, said the T-Sat Mission Operations System, or TMOS, is more than just a satellite control system.

“It provides the major interface between the satellite communications systems and the Global Information Grid,” she said. “So it is not just a ground segment control system for T-Sat .”

That means that mobile forces, for whom satellites often are the only means of communications with commanders, will rely on TMOS to tap into the Global Information Grid, the military’s overarching communications network.

The Air Force on Jan. 27 awarded Lockheed Martin Integrated Systems and Solutions of Gaithersburg, Md., a 10-year, $2 billion contract to develop the TMOS system, which will be used to manage operations of the T-Sat system. As envisioned, T-Sat will be a constellation of satellites equipped with laser links and Internet router technology that will dramatically increase the amount and speed of communications capacity available to the U.S. military, especially forces on the move.

Modern U.S. military operations rely heavily on the ability to move vast amounts of intelligence and other information efficiently and quickly, Pawlikowski said. “What the T-Sat program does is provide the ability for us to use space to be able to do that,” she said. “What TMOS does is provide the ability to use those space-based communications systems integrated in with the ground network that we’re all familiar with using today, whether it be the Internet or cell phones.”

Lockheed Martin’s teammates on the TMOS program include divisions of Northrop Grumman Corp. of Los Angeles; Telecordia Technologies of Piscataway, N.J. ; SAIC of San Diego; and Verizon of New York . The losing bidders for the contract were Northrop Grumman and Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Mass.

According to a Lockheed Martin press release, the TMOS system is expected to begin operations in 2014. The T-Sat satellites officially are slated to start launching around that time, but Pawlikowski indicated that change is afoot for that program, which has seen its budget cut by Congress in each of the past two years.

“I think it’s fair to say you will see some adjustments in our approach to T-Sat ,” Pawlikowski said. She declined to elaborate in advance of the Feb. 6 unveiling of the Pentagon’s 2007 budget request.

A team of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman is competing against one led by Boeing Integrated Defense Systems of St. Louis for the T-Sat contract, but the award date is uncertain.

“What the actual space segment will look like is important but the need to be able to integrate the satellite communications in with the rest of the grid exists … regardless of whether T-Sat is the T-Sat you see now or if it evolves into something different,” Pawlikowski said.

In addition, the TMOS system must be compatible with existing and planned satellite systems that will begin operating before T-Sat, such as the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites, she said.

Pawlikowski said her office took factors including capabilities, risk, price and past performance into account in awarding the hotly contested TMOS contract to Lockheed Martin. “Lockheed Martin’s proposal offered the best value to the government,” she said, declining to elaborate further.

Lockheed Martin spokesman Keith Mordoff attributed the team’s success to its experience, track record, collaboration with its customer and flexible operations.

“The Lockheed Martin team spent a great deal of time understanding the needs and relentlessly focused on a top-down total solution,” Mordoff said in a prepared statement .

Raytheon spokesman Keith Little and Northrop Grumman spokeswoman Janis Lamar each declined to comment on the contract Feb. 3.

Comments: mfrederick@space.com