Protected Communications Go Polar

Crew members look out from the USS Connecticut, a Sea Wolf-class nuclear submarine, after it surfaced through ice in the Arctic Ocean. Those onboard will soon be able to better communicate with those onshore, thanks to a large integration effort by Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center. U.S. Navy photo.

By Katherine Connor for Future Forces Magazine

Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SSC) Pacific is working to facilitate communications for the submarines currently traversing the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean, and for other Navy communities and military services which may find themselves operating regularly in this region.

A team of 45 from SSC Pacific recently completed a major milestone in the Enhanced Polar System (EPS) Gateway project, which will provide continuous extremely high frequency
(EHF), protected satellite communications to forces operating in the North Polar Region, above 65 degrees north latitude. The team completed both the installation and installation qualification test of the gateway, which is one of four components of the overall EPS system.

The crew of the submarine USS Hampton posted a sign reading “North Pole” made by the crew after surfacing in the polar ice cap region. U.S. Navy photo.

The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in El Segundo is the sponsor of the EPS program, which will replace an existing and aging communication system. Peter Shchupak, SSC Pacific engineer and project lead for the EPS gateway, said SSC Pacific essentially created a 3,000-mile extension cord between the satellite communication terminals at Clear Air Force Station in Alaska, and the teleport at Camp Roberts, California, where there is existing access into the defense networking infrastructure.

“The gateway is part of the EPS ground system, and serves as the interface between polar and mid-latitude users of the system,” Shchupak said. “We have three terminals along with a suite of networking equipment at Clear Air Force Station, Alaska, and a small footprint of networking equipment at Camp Roberts, and these work together to pass communications traffic between the satellite and the teleport infrastructure.”

Shchupak said this will allow submarines to communicate with other polar users and others ashore, using services such as voice, email, instant messaging, and video as if they were connected to terrestrial infrastructure. In the future as more naval communities and services such as the Coast Guard are tasked with Arctic missions, they will be able to hook into the EPS system and the terminals at Clear Air Force Station as well, providing their platforms with protected EHF satellite communications.

The gateway segment was largely an integration effort, meaning no new hardware or software was developed, but existing commercial and government-off-the-shelf components had to be connected and configured in a manner that supported the mission.

“The bulk of the challenge was selecting the right design, the right equipment, and making sure it all talks together correctly,” Shchupak said. “Installation was very challenging as well because of the geographic location—you have a very short build season there, so we had to execute all installation-related activities between May and September.”

The completed EPS system is expected to be delivered in 2018, increasing the capacity, data rate, and connectivity available for Arctic communications.

RELATED LINKS:

Cold Front: ONR Researchers Explore Arctic Land and Sea at Navy ICEX

Polar Priorities: Senior Defense Officials Discuss Arctic, Antarctic Science and Research

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