Boeing struggles with its terminal effort, while competitors weigh in with options
As fights to keep its $4.7 billion program to develop secure terminals for the nation's newest protected satellites, its competitors are posing a variety of alternatives.
The U.S. Air Force has now provided—the competitor that lost the Family of Beyond-Line-of-Sight Terminals (FAB-T) 10 years ago—with $70 million as an alternate path should the latest restructuring to the Boeing effort once again fail to meet expectations.
Though terminal programs often take a backseat to their spaceborne satellite cousins, FAB-T would provide the last tactical mile of connectivity between the president and the U.S.'s nuclear bombers, missiles and submarines in the event of an attack.
Raytheon's firm, fixed-price contract was awarded Sept. 10 and requires delivery of engineering development terminal models for the E-4 Advanced Airborne Command Post used by the president and for the E-6 Looking Glass aircraft nuclear forces command system. The contract also calls for delivery of ground-fixed and transportable versions capable of offering voice conferencing for users, including the president, all by July 2013.
Boeing's restructured contract calls for development work to be ready in spring 2013. Functional qualification testing is set to begin in February, says company spokesman Richard Esposito.
The FAB-T terminals are needed to communicate with a new generation of satellites, theAdvanced Extremely High-Frequency ( ) birds, the first of which became operational last February. However, the terminals will also be backward compatible for operation with five Milstar satellites already in orbit.
Though both the AEHF satellites repeatedly suffered delays and cost overruns, now that they are being launched the Pentagon's patience with problems in the terminal program is waning. Boeing's team competed a series of internal software deliveries last month to facilitate the addition of the presidential voice-conferencing capability to its restructured contract, Esposito says.
Roger Krone, president of Boeing Network and Space Systems, admits that the company underestimated the complexity of managing the effort, but he contends that the delivery date can be met.
Meanwhile, Raytheon is receiving a second lease on life in this program, after being criticized in the competition a decade ago for relying too much on old software language.
The first deliverables are expected in 10 months, and the company can move at a fast clip owing to its existing work developing and producing three other, similar terminals: the Army's Secure, Mobile, Anti-Jam, Reliable, Tactical Terminal (Smart-T) and the Navy Multiband Terminal and Air Force Minuteman Minimum Essential Emergency Communications Network Program Upgrade (MMPU). “We are not starting from scratch,” says Scott Whatmough, vice president of integrated communications systems. “We have 80% of the functionality already.” The task ahead for Raytheon is to adapt its experience with these terminals designed for Army vehicles, Navy ships and Air Force ICBMs to a smaller form factor for use on weight-sensitive aircraft. Each of these programs has been through full qualification testing and is in manufacturing.
At the end of the 10 months, Raytheon will be required to deliver real hardware in actual circuit cards, though qualification—a time-consuming process—would come later if the Air Force opts for this design. Whatmough says the company's waveform has already been tested with the actual AEHF satellite in orbit and is “fully operational.” The Raytheon-government team mapped out a 24-month program that includes off-ramps should the service opt for Boeing's design.
As these two contractors duel for the FAB-T requirement, AEHF satellite manufacturers Lockheed Martin and—provider of the communications payload—are making a play for at least some of this business.
The pair, teamed with TeleCommunications Systems, based in Annapolis, Md., says they have developed a protected satellite communications family of terminals at no cost to the U.S.. The terminals could be ready for production once a government agency certifies its cryptological system.
The team intentionally designed the terminals to a streamlined set of requirements—only addressing the “must haves” for the Army. The terminals—Protected Communications on the Move and Protected SIPR/NIPR Access Point [Secret Internet Protocol Router/Nonclassified Internet Protocol Router networks] (P-SNAP)—lack the nuclear-hardening and communications architecture planning services available in the aforementioned programs already underway for the Pentagon. They still will address the voice, data, video and low-probability-of-detection/low-probability-of-intercept needs of soldiers on the move, says Fred Ricker, vice president of Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. The extra requirements, though, drive much of the cost.
Officials say the terminals are not intended to compete directly with existing, protected EHF terminals. However, some of these efforts have struggled owing to technology maturation and cost, and there could be a business opportunity if the services want a quick solution for a portion of their forces.
Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman jointly invested “substantial” and equal research and development funding to develop the Low-Cost Terminal family, which includes a low-profile antenna system suitable for vehicle use as well as a “halt” version more appropriate for when a unit can pause and acquire the signal, according to team officials.
Company officials declined to disclose the development cost. But the per-unit production price is targeted at $300,000-350,000, says Mark Bristol, senior vice president at Telecommunications Systems, which would build the terminals in its Tampa, Fla., facility. This price is roughly 1/10th the unit cost of traditional protected communications terminals, he says.
Telecommunications Systems joined the team about two years ago and is the prime contractor.
Though team officials have conducted environmental and functional testing, they can go no further without a government sponsor to shepherd the systems through the National Security Agency's certification process, which could take roughly a year, says Vice Adm. (ret.) Lyle Bein, former Space Command chief and a consultant who has worked with Northrop.
Certification would cost roughly $2 million, though the figure would depend on the final operational concept to be tested by the government, according to John Miyamoto, vice president of advanced programs for Lockheed Martin Military Space.
The team is offering the concept to the government, but at this point, the U.S. might not be able to afford it. And even if it can, it is unclear whether the Pentagon would be required to conduct a competition for this capability.