HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen W. Wilson praised acquisition personnel here for working to quickly replace combat technology that is so bulky and aged, deployed battlefield Airmen are ignoring it rather than using it as a communication hub.
The Tactical Transportable Gateway will replace the aged Air Support Operations Center Gateway communication node for deployed troops, linking ground forces with corps and division headquarters and air support, while providing situational awareness for areas as large as California. The current ASOC Gateway sits on two server racks on the back of a Humvee and is comprised of multiple vintage communication components, sewn together out of necessity during 15 years of continuous combat. The TTG reduces that footprint to the size of a suitcase.
“If you think about the current fights we’re in, the TTG can be a very useful piece of equipment,” said Master Sgt. Joseph Hren, Tactical Air Control Party specialist and equipment program manager assigned to Air Combat Command, Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. “But if we can’t keep it working, or use all of it as intended, TACPs will go back to paper maps and voice-over-radio signals, rather than tinker with broken equipment when we’re deployed.”
Robert Bubello, the Battlespace Communications Branch chief at Hanscom, who oversees TTG’s acquisition, says they are making progress developing the ASOC Gateway replacement. Completion, scheduled for February 2018, will lead to operational testing and, eventually, fielding a TTG that can be moved by 1-2 personnel.
“The TTG will be mobile in the way that battlefield Airmen require,” said Bubello. “We expect to start fielding it to units in July 2018.”
Communication gateways like the TTG and ASOC Gateway send voice and digital text messages across multiple networks and waveforms, but the most sought-after for TACPs is the Link-16 data exchange network. Link-16 terminals can weigh in excess of 300 pounds, but they communicate with ships, battle control aircraft, attack aircraft, headquarters and ground troops in near real-time.
Acquisition personnel invested extra time to identify the Small Form Factor Link-16 terminal, which only has two manufacturers. Their goal was to get everything required for the TTG contained in one piece of equipment, reducing weight, maintenance cost and power requirements.
“This is pretty fast, as far as acquisition models go,” said Maj. Cullen Brewster, lead engineer for TACP Mobile Systems development at Hanscom. “But we knew the need was there when we started getting reports from the field that their current Air Support Operations Center Gateways were just being left behind. For a piece of equipment with this much range and communication power, that’s a bad sign.”
Air Combat Command and Air Force Special Operations Command both have battlefield Airmen who will use the replacement system to keep troops tied-in with combat air support. Airmen within those commands have slightly different requirements, so acquisition personnel here made sure that the manufacturer produced one TTG with two versions, rather than two different TTGs altogether.
The Battlespace Communications Branch falls under the Program Executive Officer for Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Special Operations Forces at Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, but is located within the Theater Battle Control Division at Hanscom. The TTG team is pursuing an agile acquisition model, where operators have frequent contact with the contractor, in order to ensure the final product meets developing requirements.
“By combining ACC’s and AFSOC’s requirements and competing the contract among small businesses, we were able to both accelerate the schedule and drive significant cost reductions for the overall effort,” said Kerry Pelham, TTG program manager, during a May 2017 brief to Wilson. “In response, Wilson said, ‘This is what we need to do across all programs – work with industry, combine requirements, contracting and procurement for more rapid acquisition.’”