The Challenge of Shifting 180 Critical Ground Terminals for Northcom

The military command tasked with preventing a direct, surprise attack on the United States and supporting domestic disaster relief cannot tolerate even a moment’s loss of communications capability. So the process of shifting 180 ground terminals used by the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) to an Intelsat satellite that began in mid-June has been a meticulous process, as the company engineers and NORTHCOM operators carefully switch one terminal at a time and test the connectivity. The transfer of all the terminals won’t be completed until the end of August.northcom

The ground terminals are being switched over to operate through Intelsat’s Galaxy 18 satellite under a sub-contract Intelsat General (IGC) received from the prime contractor, By Light Professional IT Services Inc. The contract calls for Intelsat General to provide up to 90 MHz of dedicated Ku-bandwidth and a managed subscription terminal with access to commercial Internet and phone services. NORTHCOM will use the bandwidth to support training exercises and initial contingent operation responses for domestic disaster relief and other events.

In addition to the initial 90 MHz, IGC will provide two 18 MHz blocks of Ku- band to support the U.S. Central Commands’ and National Guard units’ communications in the United States. Prior to the beginning of the contract term on June 16, IGC engineers had done the link analysis and other work necessary to begin shifting the NORTHCOM terminals from another satellite to Galaxy 18, which orbits at 123 degrees West with a footprint covering all of North America and the Hawaiian Islands. The satellite, launched in 2008, has 24 Ku-band and 24 C-band transponders to provide television and data coverage of the region.

“Our Secure Operations Center performed a whopping 198 peak-and-pole tests for NORTHCOM since the middle of June in setting up this service,” said David Reinke, program manager for IGC. “It was a bit hectic at first, but after the first onslaught we received the schedule for access from NORTHCOM and we were able to staff up to meet their needs. We are happy to be part of providing these services and stand ready to assist in the event of a local or national calamity, when we would expect another flurry of activity.”

One of the challenges in fulfilling the contract requirements is that about a dozen different types of satellite terminals are involved, all connecting into 9.0 meter hubs at NORTHCOM bases in California and Virginia. In addition, the terminals are located in all 50 states because each state’s National Guard unit is connected to the NORTHCOM network, with transportable/Fly-Away terminals that can support deployment anywhere needed within the coverage footprint.

Once the terminals are all connected in August, Intelsat General will continue to monitor the network and provide ongoing support to NORTHCOM to insure uninterrupted, round-the-clock connectivity for its critical operations.