WASHINGTON — The next generation of secure communications satellites under development by the U.S. Department of Defense promises to substantially increase the amount of information available to troops in the field.

Developing the network to distribute information will be a monumental task, but a concurrent competition to develop that system is designed to help prevent the kind of problems that have limited the effectiveness of other satellite communications systems, industry officials said.

Divisions of Lockheed Martin Corp., Raytheon Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp. are leading teams in the competition to build the ground segment for the U.S. Air Force Transformational Satellite Communications System (T-Sat).

That network, dubbed the T-Sat Missions Operations System (TMOS), will work with the new generation satellites as well as distribute information collected by other platforms.

“The guys out there in the field need this kind of communications capability,” said Jim Ivey, TMOS program director for Lockheed Martin Integrated Systems & Solutions of Valley Forge, Pa., said. “The next-generation of protected communications satellites is really going to make a difference in how we fight wars.”

The competitors are developing their proposals under study contracts.

A request for proposal is expected to be released in May, with a prime contractor selected before the end of 2005.

The award had been planned for early 2005 but has been delayed due to the congressional budget reduction to the Air Force request for the T-Sat program in the 2005 budget, said Troy Meink, Air Force T-Sat program manager in the military satellite communications joint program office at the Space and Missile Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base.

Meink would not divulge the projected TMOS contract value, but the Air Force has budgeted about $2 billion for the life of the program.

“This will be the enabler for future systems,” Ray Kolibaba, vice president of space systems at Raytheon Command, Control, Communications & Information Systems of Denver, said. “We believe we should start deploying TMOS prior to T-Sat and get in with some of the other systems as they are being developed.”

Procuring TMOS separately from T-Sat will help avoid some of the problems experienced with other systems such as Wideband Gapfiller and the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites, both of which have their own specialized ground systems, which has meant they cannot interact, officials said.

“The government has put itself into a good position and will not be forced to compromise between” the development of the network and the development of the satellites, Ivey said.

Currently, terminals are designed for use with a specific systems, said Martin Amen, director, space and communication, for Northrop Grumman’s Missions Systems of Reston, Va.

The Internet style communication TMOS is being designed to make possible will allow users to access information from multiple platforms using a single terminal.

With TMOS, the satellite component will be a router within the network, Amen said “Granted, it’s a very expensive and complex router, but it will work with other systems and ties in with the whole concept of the Pentagon’s Global Information Grid,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about which satellite you are trying to go to.”

To develop the network that will bring Internet protocol-style communications to space, each of the prime contractors have put together teams that include a mix of legacy aerospace and defense contractors as well as commercial communications companies.

Raytheon’s main subcontractors include Boeing, AT&T and General Dynamics, while Northrop Grumman is leading a team that includes Verizon, Harris Corp. and CSC.

Lockheed Martin’s team includes SAIC; Telcordia Technologies, Verizon Federal Network Systems and Northrop Grumman Mission Systems, a partnership that was forged before Northrop Grumman acquired the space assets of TRW Inc. in December 2002.

The critical part of TMOS will be writing nearly 5 million lines of software code, which accounts for about 80 percent of program development, officials said.

The TMOS program also includes the development of a network operations center and operations management center as well as the related hardware.

“We’ve done programs in the range of 2.5 to 3 million lines of code,” Kolibaba said. “We have a very good track record, but this is a challenge. This is a very aggressive program from that standpoint.”

To try and avoid software development problems that have plagued other large space programs, the Air Force has enlisted experts from the Software Engineering Institute to work on the program, Air Force officials said.

“We have a very healthy respect for software,” Christine Anderson, director of the Milsatcom joint program office, said. “That’s why we brought in the Software Engineering Institute to put that extra emphasis on the software engineering,”

A Lockheed Martin-Northrop Grumman team is competing against another one led by Boeing to build the T-Sat satellites, which are expected to begin launching around 2013.

The teams competing for TMOS hope to begin incremental deployment of the network in 2008 and have the system in place before the first T-Sat launch, the officials said.

“We want to make sure the network architecture gets out there and we can achieve interoperability,” said Trip Carter, advanced programs manager for military satellite communications at Raytheon.

“In the future it could be cost prohibitive to do so once networks are out there and established and deployed. Lots of transformation systems emerging today and the time to achieve interoperability is now.”

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