Firms Join Forces To Develop Low-cost Military Satellite Terminals

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WASHINGTON — Three companies pooled their resources to develop a new line of highly secure satellite communications ground terminals for the U.S. Army at what they say is one-tenth of what it would cost the government to develop similar equipment.

Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and TeleCommunication Systems are conducting environmental testing of what they are calling the Low Cost Terminal (LCT) system, Fred Ricker, deputy general manager of Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, said during a Sept. 26 press conference here.

The LCT terminals are designed to work with the U.S. Air Force’s Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) and legacy Milstar secure satellite communications systems. These jam-proof, nuclear-hardened satellites are used not only for command and control of U.S. strategic weapons but also for tactical forces.

Ricker said the LCTs are ready for use pending certification for operations from the U.S. National Security Agency, a process that could take less than a year.

“The terminals are designed specifically to provide protected tactical communications-on-the-move for the Army,” Bob Bishop, a Northrop Grumman spokesman, said during a Sept. 27 interview. “The program is not designed to compete with existing ground terminal programs,” he said.

“There is a market for producing several thousand of the program’s terminals for the government,” Bishop said.

The Air Force’s Family of Advanced Beyond Line-of-Sight Terminals program, for example, is intended to support strategic users of the Milstar and AEHF systems. That program has encountered delays and cost overruns, and the Air Force recently brought Raytheon in as a competitor to the original prime contractor, Boeing.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., built the Milstar satellites and is prime contractor on the successor AEHF satellites. Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems is a major subcontractor on both programs, with primary responsibility for the secure communications payloads.

The second of four AEHF satellites fully under contract was launched in May.

The LCT system will support voice, data and video communications, Ricker said. Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman Aerospace have been working on the effort for about four years; TeleCommunication Systems Government Solutions Group of Annapolis, Md., came on board earlier this year.

More than four years ago, the government acknowledged an unsatisfied demand for tactical communications for the Army, Ricker said. The Army has been working with the LCT industry team to develop requirements for the platform, he said. Ricker declined to provide the projected cost for the LCT project citing competitive reasons.

Michael Bristol, senior vice president of government solutions for TeleCommunication Systems, said the LCT is designed to work with existing infrastructure.

Retired U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Lyle Bien, a former deputy commander of U.S. Space Command who now works as a satellite telecom consultant, said during the press conference that the LCT development effort was able to bypass the problems associated with the U.S. Defense Department’s bureaucratic acquisition processes. He said it is important to encourage industry to develop projects independently by providing them government certification.