This article summarizes a flexible, "wideband", point-to-multipoint mobile communications solution that the U.S. Military Sealift Command (MSC) has adopted for its maritime fleet of users accessing the Inmarsat satellite system. It is based on the premise of providing 24x7 connectivity (with asymmetric data rates) to support surge capacity requirements on demand, to/from any vessel, at any time, anywhere in the world. MSC has been utilizing this technique since late 1999 aboard its high usage ocean-going vessels.
Two years ago, MSC, which serves as the logistics and material supply arm of U.S. Naval forces, was utilizing legacy narrowband data and voice services via the Inmarsat satellite system for their ships operating around the world. The MSC predicament was very much that of a disadvantaged remote user in a hard to reach environment – limited access to information due to lack of cost-effective communications services. MSC mission extension demanded the transfer of more information at higher data rates. The new rapid response nature of the 21st century MSC mission had outstripped the ability of the legacy Inmarsat narrowband communications services to keep up with MSC’s information transfer demands.
MSC has a highly remote (ocean-going), dispersed (all ocean regions) and diverse base of users, whose communications performance requirements match those of their U.S. Navy counterparts. Traditional military satellite communications solutions would call for complex and highly expensive architectures that do not make the most efficient use of data throughput potential. MSC budget constraints also eliminated the option for them to implement a "brute force" style and costly "stove-pipe" based solution, with dedicated wideband capacity to/from all of their vessels. The MSC leadership looked for new and innovative solutions to their operational and budgetary challenges.
The BEST Solution
To address its operational and budgetary challenges, MSC chose to integrate the "Bandwidth Efficient Satellite Transport" (BEST) bandwidth on demand virtual private networking solution as an overlay to its existing legacy Inmarsat infrastructure. The BEST solution was developed by Innovative Communications Technologies, Inc. (ICTI) and is operated as a service offering by Stratos Wireless, Inc. (Stratos). BEST’s rapid fielding potential meant that service improvements and cost savings could be realized for MSC early in the implementation cycle.
The BEST solution has achieved efficiencies on the order of 300 percent relative to the legacy Inmarsat architectures (without BEST) previously used by MSC. The annual recurring operating cost for MSC remained virtually the same, while service quality tripled in throughput and changed from periodic narrowband voice or data to full period wideband multimedia voice, data, Internet and Intranet (SIPRNET and NIPRNET). The BEST system provides MSC with robust service connectivity for voice, data and imagery, both secure and non-secure, for both classified and unclassified missions. In order to implement the BEST product, MSC made a modest capital investment in the initial BEST overlay hardware/software as part of a fleet-wide telecommunications upgrade, which was fully recovered in less than 12 months of regional fleet operations.
Value-added features of the BEST solution include:
•Authorized for use over Inmarsat Lease Satellites
•Based on use of 100 percent COTS (commercial off the shelf)/NDI (non-developmental, custom/ legacy) technology
•Low-risk turnkey solution
•24 x 7 connectivity for all end user terminals at fixed cost
•Rapid deployment cycle (fully operational in less than three months from initial order)
•"Plug ‘n Play" w/ MSC’s existing Inmarsat-B terminals (Nera Saturn-B)