BOSTON — Two aerospace firms have submitted bids for a new military satellite terminal contract that could be worth more than $1 billion, according to industry officials involved with the program.
Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., and Raytheon Network Centric Systems of Marlborough, Mass., are the two suitors for the Navy Multiband Terminal (NMT) contract, which the U.S. Navy plans to award in June 2007.
Deployment of the terminals is expected to begin in 2009. The terminals are being designed for Navy ships and submarines.
Large ships in the Navy’s fleet today, like the Aegis cruisers and destroyers, may have access to both protected extremely high frequency (EHF) communications links from the Milstar satellites, as well as X-band signals from the Defense Satellite Communications System, according to Glen Bassett, NMT program manager at Raytheon Network Centric Systems.
Smaller ships like a fast frigate generally have access to only one satellite system, and most submarines today are limited to using the Milstar constellation, Bassett said.
Navy vessels today typically use separate hardware for each type of satellite signal that they require, Bassett said. NMT will handle all of the signals with a single terminal below deck, enabling ships and submarines to access more satellite signals. In addition, NMT will take up less space, an important feature on Navy ships where space is always at a premium, he said.
The NMT terminals are designed to handle signals from the Defense Satellite Communications System and Milstar satellites, and the Wideband Gapfiller and Advanced EHF satellites that are slated to replace those constellations later this decade, according to briefing charts used by the Navy program executive office for command, control, communications, computers and intelligence.
The NMT terminals will be capable of handling both the X-band signals from Wideband Gapfiller satellites and the Ka-band signals that those satellites will offer, something not available with the service provided by the Defense Satellite Communications System today, Bassett said.
In addition to saving space on Navy vessels, consolidating hardware allows the Navy to devote fewer people to operating the satellite communications equipment aboard ships and subs, Bassett said.
Aside from consolidating equipment and enabling troops to connect to next-generation satellite systems, the NMT terminals offer other upgrades as well. For example, t he terminals are expected to operate more reliably than the terminals used at sea today, according to Mike O’Reilly, NMT program at Harris Corp.
The NMT terminals are designed to have a higher likelihood of connecting to the desired satellite — well over 90 percent, versus 85 percent in existing terminals, O’Reilly said.
The terminals also are designed with more current technology that involves fewer moving parts, O’Reilly said. Terminals used today typically operate less than 1,000 hours before risking failure; NMT is designed to operate for over 2,000 hours before risking a break down, he said.
In addition to Navy ships and subs, the NMT terminals are designed for use by U.S. allies, Bassett said. This will likely be the first time that allies have access to the U.S. military EHF signals, he said.
Cooperation with allies has been a key theme of recent speeches by Adm. Mike Mullen, chief of naval operations, who has talked about the concept of a “1,000-ship navy” that addresses issues of mutual concern around the globe.
While sharing the terminals can boost interoperability between U.S. and coalition forces, it presents a security challenge, Bassett said. The NMT terminals will need to be designed so that allies are capable of using Advanced EHF, but are prevented from using the waveforms that carry high-priority strategic messages sent today over the Milstar satellites, he said.
Raytheon has built a variety of satellite terminals for Navy ships and subs that enable them to use the Milstar and Defense Satellite Communications System satellites, including the Submarine High Data Rate Terminal, the Navy EHF SatCom Terminal, and two blocks of the WSC-6 terminal, Bassett said. The company also has built Milstar terminals for the Army and Air Force, and X-band terminals for the Netherlands and Spain, he said.
While Harris has significant background in developing satellite terminals that handle X-band and Ka-band signals, including the most recent block of WSC-6 terminals, it has not thus far built EHF systems, O’Reilly said. A win in the NMT competition could help open the door for future work on secure communications terminals, he said.
Harris is confident that it is up to the task of designing protected communications terminals, and recently used a prototype version of NMT to uplink to Milstar at the company’s Naval SatCom Integration and Test Facility in Palm Bay, Fla., he said.