By Capt. Daniel Katuzienski, 2nd Combat Weather Systems Squadron
/ Published May 21, 2020
Equipment making up the field portion of Project Bat Phone on display at the 2nd Combat Weather Systems Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Florida, May 20, 2020. Consisting of a PRC-117G Tactical Radio, satellite antenna and a laptop running specialized software, the system is designed to give first-in communications capabilities to Warfighters in contested, degraded or operationally-limited environments. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Daniel Katuzienski)
Members from Joint Special Operations Command, 2nd Combat Weather Systems Squadron, 18th Weather Squadron and 16th Weather Squadron review the details of a satellite communications test at Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina, February 20, 2020. Known as Project Bat Phone, the test used satellite communications equipment to transmit weather data between Pope Army Air Field and Hurlburt Field, Florida. (U.S. Air Force photo by James Bove)
Steve Jaworski, 16th Weather Squadron (WS) senior systems analyst, works on a laptop during a satellite communications test at Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina, February 20, 2020. The test, which uses off-the-shelf equipment and software built by the 16th WS, seeks to provide first-in data to warfighters in contested, degraded and operationally-limited environments. (U.S. Air Force photo by James Bove)
Members from Air Force Weather and Special Operations communities gathered at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, Feb. 20, to test a first-in communications capability with potential for the global Air Force mission.
Joint Special Operations Command, 2nd Combat Weather Systems Squadron, 18th Weather Squadron and 16th Weather Squadron verified the ability of Defense Department satellite communication networks to operate with Project Bat Phone, a first-in communications system that pairs innovative information delivery software with off-the-shelf computers and military radios to deliver key advantages in first-in and contested, degraded and operationally-limited environments, known as CDO environments.
Initial efforts had employed the PRC-117G tactical radio to do line-of-sight tests using high frequency radio transmission, validating the software’s capabilities to transmit environmental intelligence while overcoming issues inherent to wireless communication, including latency and data packet loss.
The efforts meet requirements set by Lt. Gen Mark Kelly, Air Force Operations deputy chief of staff, in a functional concept signed in May 2019.
“Under the operational conditions anticipated in a near-peer conflict, unrestricted access to reachback organizations using traditional methods of communicating will likely be disrupted or denied at times,” the concept reads. “Our reachback centers must be able to provide alternate means of disseminating critical environmental data to forward forces.”
The key to making that work was the utilization of the DOD’s Mobile User Objective System, a secured satellite constellation. This joint radio test represents Air Force Weather’s first independent use of MUOS for over-the-horizon communications.
MUOS supports U.S. Military mobile, tactical ground, sea and air operations by connecting users into the global information grid. It allows users to securely transmit and receive voice, video, and mission data on an encrypted, high-speed military satellite-networked internet protocol-based system.
This new capability allows Airmen to operate in a limited or degraded communications environment and receive or transmit vital data in austere environments in keeping with the concept signed by Kelly.
“Key environmental intelligence could be the difference in ground teams having air support to protect their mission,” said Staff Sgt. Alec Lewison, a 2nd CWSS weather systems trainer and lead radio frequency transmission technician for the test.
In addition to a successful test, the demonstration highlights the power of the multi-capable Airman concept, where weather, maintainer, or radio frequency transmission Airmen can leverage peer skills to plan, setup and operate a satellite communications radio network in any environment.
“It is difficult for me to comprehend the sheer scope of what systems like MUOS could be capable of in operational theaters,” said Staff Sgt. Cameron Trudeau, 2nd CWSS radar, airfield, weather systems technician.
Lewison and Trudeau both led the charge at 2nd CWSS to further operationalize Project Bat Phone by incorporating SATCOM MUOS.
Future plans include integrating the assets into command and control and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance exercises to push the limits of what’s possible with the technology and refine the concept of operations to best insert weather tradecraft into the Joint fight in a CDO environment.
In the meantime, the multi-capable Airmen at 2nd CWSS will continue to look for innovative ways to bring the future faster to enhance the lethality of the Joint Force.