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Offutt Antennas to receive upgrade

An Air Force Wideband Enterprise Terminal stands poised under a protective covering on Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. AFWET terminals communicate with a variety of satellites and keep military branches and other government agencies connected worldwide. The system is currently undergoing its third largest modernization led by a program management team from Hanscom AFB, Mass. (U.S. Air Force photo by Josh Plueger)

An Air Force Wideband Enterprise Terminal stands poised under a protective covering on Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. AFWET terminals communicate with a variety of satellites and keep military branches and other government agencies connected worldwide. The system is currently undergoing its third largest modernization led by a program management team from Hanscom AFB, Mass. (U.S. Air Force photo by Josh Plueger)

An Air Force Wideband Enterprise Terminal communicates with a satellite, passing information across the Global Information Grid at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. Thirty-two Air Force terminals are undergoing a Modernization of Enterprise Terminals, or MET, upgrade that will keep the system current for another 15 years. The first MET installation was recently completed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. (U.S. Air Force photo by Josh Plueger)

An Air Force Wideband Enterprise Terminal communicates with a satellite, passing information across the Global Information Grid at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. Thirty-two Air Force terminals are undergoing a Modernization of Enterprise Terminals, or MET, upgrade that will keep the system current for another 15 years. The first MET installation was recently completed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. (U.S. Air Force photo by Josh Plueger)

Underneath the spherical protective coverings are two Air Force Wideband Enterprise Terminals located at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. These terminals are among approximately 90 joint systems used worldwide to communicate and transfer information across the Global Information Grid. The AFWET program office from Hanscom AFB, Mass., is in the process of installing new modernization kits onto these systems. (U.S. Air Force photo by Josh Plueger)

Underneath the spherical protective coverings are two Air Force Wideband Enterprise Terminals located at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. These terminals are among approximately 90 joint systems used worldwide to communicate and transfer information across the Global Information Grid. The AFWET program office from Hanscom AFB, Mass., is in the process of installing new modernization kits onto these systems. (U.S. Air Force photo by Josh Plueger)

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- A key system that helps ensure the global free flow of information throughout all military branches and other government agencies is undergoing a major overhaul.

Here at Offutt, construction begins on July 29 when 10 trucks will deliver materials and parts to kick off the start of our small contribution to the overhaul. A cement pad, laid last summer, will be the foundation for an antenna. This first antenna is scheduled to be under construction from September 2015 until July 2016. The finishing touch will be when the radome over the top the antenna is installed, making it resemble a large golf ball.

The upgrades are being led by a team at Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts. The Air Force Wideband Enterprise Terminal system is receiving its third largest upgrade to date, known as the Modernization of Enterprise Terminals, or MET for short.

"At our Satellite Communication Facility here at Offutt AFB, under the 55th Strategic Communication Squadron, 55th Communication Group, we will be going through a modernization for our Defense Satellite Communication System," said 1st Lt. Perri Means, 55th SCS Command and Control Flight commander. "This system is tied to the two large antennas that look like large golf balls near the 55th Wing headquarters building."

Offutt will then begin the second phase of the project.  In August 2016, one of the now three antennas will be deconstructed and a new MET terminal will be constructed on the same cement pad. This second phase is scheduled to occur from August 2016 - July 2017.

Using a variety of satellites to transfer both classified and unclassified data, these terminals provide the backbone for the Global Information Grid and keep Airmen connected across the globe. Structurally, AFWET are heavy- or medium-fixed Wideband Global SATCOM, or Defense Satellite Communication System, terminals comprised of a radome, electronics and a 38-to 60-foot dish antenna.

Recently, the program team completed the first successful MET kit installation for the AFWET system located at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, signifying the modernization effort is well on its way.

"AFWET is a system of systems, and the MET upgrade modernizes approximately 60 percent of the terminals," said Shawn Patterson, AFWET program manager, who has spent more than a decade working on the program. "We are steadily ramping up and expect to have another three installations completed shortly."

The Ramstein terminal is the first of 32 systems the Air Force is responsible for updating. However, MET is a Department of Defense initiative, which will impact an estimated 90 fielded joint terminals altogether.

Since the AFWET program team performs implementation and integration organically - meaning without the use of prime contractors - they take advantage of partnering with other Services to reduce cost.

For example, the Air Force was able to benefit from research and development performed by other military branches. In addition, the Hanscom program team utilizes a government-off-the-shelf approach, which helps maintain a joint standard, promotes a standardized software baseline and results in lower prices on joint terminal purchases with the Army.

"Savings have been quite substantial - in the millions of dollars," Patterson said. "Since this is an enterprise system, and not specifically for Airmen only, capability as well as cost falls to all of the Services."

The AFWET program team's primary focus is the MET modernization; however, they are also responsible for the overall life cycle of the terminals, which includes modernizing and sustaining the remaining 40 percent of the terminals.

"We are the product support integrator," Patterson said. "Addressing other sustainment issues outside the MET modernization is all part of keeping the system alive."

There are 25 targeted sustainment actions currently underway with an additional 15 to 25 slated for next fiscal year, according to the AFWET program manager.

Some of the sustainment actions include reliability and software modifications, technical refreshes on alarm systems, modem upgrades and updating fiber communications, terrestrial equipment and routers.

"This new MET system will interface with a whole new constellation of satellites, Wideband Global Satellites, which will provide 10 times the throughput of the old DSCS satellites," Means said.

With each completed MET and sustainment effort, the life span of the AFWET system is extended.

"The successful installation of the first MET upgrade marks an important milestone in the progress of the AFWET program," said Col. Todd Krueger, Space, Aerial and Nuclear Networks Division senior materiel leader. "Mr. Patterson and his team have done an outstanding job of preparing for worldwide installation and support while focusing on affordability. They are delivering critical global connectivity for the joint warfighter."