Gateway To Facilitate Radio Interoperability Now in Testing

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BOSTON — The U.S. military could soon begin using a new telecommunications gateway system intended to address frustration among troops who have been unable in many cases to talk with one another due to incompatible radio equipment.

The Mobile Ad-Hoc Interoperability GATEway (MAINGATE) system, developed by Raytheon Co. with funding from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, also could be a boon to emergency response officials who have had similar problems, according to Lucas Bragg, senior manager for advanced programs at Raytheon Network Centric Systems in Falls Church, Va.

The MAINGATE system is currently undergoing final testing for a military customer that Bragg declined to name during an Oct. 19 interview at the Milcom 2009 conference in Boston. Raytheon will begin initial production for the U.S. Army in 2010, he said. The equipment is designed to mounted on racks inside light trucks, allowing users nearby to tap into the network.

Documents on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Web site state that the MAINGATE capabilities will be used by the Army and Marine Corps “with a focus on Special Operations Forces.”

The military is using a “test-build-test” approach to MAINGATE and plans to conduct exercises that will examine its impact on tactics, techniques and procedures for use in vehicles and by dismounted troops, according to the agency document. The agency awarded a one-year, $24.4 million contract in July that includes options that would extend the contract to 2012 and bring the potential value to $155 million, according to a Raytheon news release dated July 16.

The U.S. Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment is one exercise where MAINGATE is expected to play a featured role. The Army recently selected Raytheon to run this experiment, to be carried out over the course of three weeks in early 2010 at the Army’s Maneuver Battle Lab at Fort Benning in Georgia. The exercise will feature technologies including unattended ground sensors, unmanned ground vehicles and unmanned aircraft systems from more than 20 different companies and government agencies operating on a single integrated network with MAINGATE as a key connector, according to a Raytheon news release dated Oct. 19.

Troops using a variety of incompatible systems including terrestrial radios like the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System or the Enhanced Position Location Reporting System, or satellite systems like the UHF Follow-on today and the planned Mobile User Objective System in the future, will be able to plug into the MAINGATE network to talk to each other, according to George Vardakas, director of network modernization at Raytheon Integrated Communications Systems in Marlborough, Mass.

MAINGATE converts the data into Internet Protocol format, and then sends it out over a backbone network, Bragg said.

MAINGATE is designed to communicate primarily through ground and aerial links, but the system autonomously monitors its communications quality and can shift to satellites if necessary to extend range beyond line of sight, Bragg said. The system is designed to work with commercial Ku-band satellites as well as military satellites like the Wideband Global Satcom system, Vardakas said.

The system is designed to work autonomously to overcome signal distortion that can occur during operations in urban areas, Bragg said.

Raytheon has tested it with over 20 radios thus far and had no problems connecting them, Bragg said.

Each MAINGATE system costs $60,000, Bragg said. Initial military requirements documents had called for MAINGATE to provide a single-channel system at that price, but Raytheon has met the cost goal and provides two channels, he said. Users can add their own external encryption devices to it, he said.

MAINGATE was originally envisioned as part of the Army’s Future Combat Systems, a massive program aimed at fielding 18 different manned and unmanned systems — including ground and aerial vehicles as well as unattended sensors — all connected via a single communications network. The Pentagon canceled much of the program in June, but some of its parts live on.

Connecting users whose radios may be incompatible is expected to be valuable for military users like Army soldiers in their own operations, as well as when working in coalition with allied nations, Bragg said.