The U.S. Army will modify existing ground equipment so

deployed troops can receive signals directly from the next generation of missile warning satellites, rather than rely on the U.S. Air Force to purchase new ground systems for this purpose, according to an Army official.

The new strategy could better position the Army to use the information from the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellites, according to Army Col. Tim Coffin, commander of the Army’s First Space Brigade.

The Arm

y previously had planned to use the Multi-Mission Mobile Processors the U.S. Air

Force is procuring to enable its forces on the battlefield to receive warning of theater ballistic missile launches directly from the SBIRS satellites. However, a restructuring of the SBIRS program due to cost growth in 2005 led the Air Force to delete funding for the mobile processors.

Commanders consider the direct downlink from missile warning satellites, which is done today with the Defense Support Program constellation through the Joint Tactical Ground Station (JTAGS), a critical element for the ability to obtain

information quickly about nearby missile launches.

Without a direct downlink, troops on the battlefield would need to wait until that information is received by systems back in the United States, and then processed and sent back to the battlefield, according to Defense Department officials. While doing so might only take a matter of seconds, that amount of time

could make it far more difficult for troops trying to intercept a missile or prepare for impact, the Defense Department officials said.

The importance of the direct downlink from the SBIRS satellites may have been initially underestimated during the SBIRS restructuring, Coffin said. The Defense Support Program missile warning satellites

on orbit today rotate in order to provide full hemispheric

coverage. They

deliver information about the velocity and direction of a ballistic missile every 10 seconds, he said.

While this capability has been useful, the SBIRS satellites will be able to deliver more frequent updates because only a portion of the scanning sensor moves while the spacecraft platform remains stationary, Coffin said. The SBIRS satellites also feature a staring sensor not found on the Defense Support Program constellation that can focus on a particular area of interest to provide even more frequent updates, he said.

Coffin said

the JTAGS program office in Huntsville, Ala., will oversee a competition to modify the existing equipment. While the time frame for the competition is not yet set, at this point the change in plans

from the original Multi-Mission Mobile Processors concept will not result in a delay in delivering the direct downlink capability for the SBIRS satellites to troops in the field, he said. In fact, coming up with a new plan more than 10 years after the SBIRS program began

likely will work to the Army’s advantage as it allows the service to design a ground system more in line with the network centric warfare capabilities of today, he said.

One significant change from the previous plan is the elimination of the trailers that would have been filled with the Multi-Mission Mobile Processor equipment, Coffin said. As the Army looked at its options, it decided that it likely would

have a significant fixed-site presence in most of the areas where it is likely to

fight in the future, making the need for a mobile system less important.

Instead, the Army will modify JTAGS equipment and install it in fixed-site command centers, allowing for more integrated operations, Coffin said. By using the equipment inside a fixed site, the servic

e also can save money due to the reduced need for rugged hardware and power generators, he said.

The Multi-Mission Mobile Processor trailers

already have been purchased, and could be diverted to other users including Army Commercial Exploitation Teams, who provide commercial satellite imagery and related products to deployed users, or operators charged with commanding Operationally Responsive Space payloads, Coffin said.

Meanwhile, the Army recently deployed a JTAGS ground station to Japan, augmenting a system that

currently is deployed in South Korea, Coffin said. Each JTAGS ground station can serve as a backup if the other is taken offline for maintenance or modernization, he said.

Manning the stations, however, has been more challenging because

the Navy pulled personnel from the effort last year to redirect them to other missions, Coffin said. JTAGS stations generally are run by 18-21 people, six of whom previously had come from the Navy, he said.

Keeping the crews full has forced the Army to defer sending some its soldiers to schools or other training assignments, Coffin said.