Marines talk the high-tech talk


POSTED: Sunday, November 23, 2008

Marine commanders will get an immediate feel of the battlefield thanks to satellite and wireless technology.

They also will know the location of their Marines the moment they leave the troop transport.

That is the assessment of 1st Lt. Jim Parson, a communications expert with the 3rd Marine Regiment, who has been working with a third-generation mobile communications command center - known as the Mobile Modular Command and Control Enhanced Prototype system.

It's a system that can be mounted in any Humvee and gives a Marine commander the capability to communicate by voice, data or text using wideband satellite communications and wireless technology with a laptop computer.

Parsons told a group of island business leaders last week during a briefing and demonstration of the new communications system at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii that “;it will almost immediately give the commander a picture of where his units are located.”;

“;It will be an almost seamless transition from ship to shore.”;

Now it takes up to 24 hours for a commander to get all his communication equipment operational after he picks a headquarters site.

That is because his troops have to set up his tents, generators and connect his satellite dishes and run miles of connecting cables, linking the commander with his staff, added Cpl. Josh Thomas, a tactical data technician with the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force on Okinawa.

However, with the advent of secure wireless technology, voice, data and text links using satellite technology can be up and running as soon the commander deploys.

Even phone calls can be made over the data network using a secure Web-site connection via a laptop computer.

John Moniz, program manager with the Office of Naval research, said that since 2003 several prototype communications systems have been tested.

Two prototypes were presented during last week's demonstration hosted by the Marine Corps Forces Pacific experimentation center.

“;The main thrust of the program,”; said Shujie Chang, director of the center, “;was to integrate the latest state of the art technology. The hardest part was to integrate them into one package.”;

This meant integrating the use of classified and unclassified data transmission using satellite links and also the ability to communicate with U.S. coalition allies, Chang added.

The system was created using more than $25 million in congressionally mandated research funds, most of it earmarked by Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, Moniz added.

The major developers of the project are General Dynamics and Pelatron, whose work has been supplemented by the local technology companies Akimeka Technologies, Oceanit, Referentia Systems and Trex Hawaii.

Moniz said the parts of the communications system are lightweight, modular and rapidly deployable, and have a noticeably smaller footprint because the system's antenna array is smaller.

The system has evolved from “;large cumbersome racks”; of radio gear mounted on the bed of a small truck to a more compact system that even includes a webcam operated by laptop computers.

The system, which Moniz hopes will be in the field by 2012, will enable Marines in the field to communicate with each other, their commanders and higher headquarters miles away while driving down a highway. It is a collaborative effort between the Marine Corps, the Office of Naval Research and several local technology companies.

The Marine Corps said the mobile communications system also could be deployed to civilian entities in disaster relief situations.