The Marine Corps became the first service to field test a next-generation narrowband satellite communication system and so far they like what they see.

Developed for the Navy by Lockheed Martin, the $7 billion Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) consists of four orbiting satellites and an on-orbit spare satellite and four ground stations. MUOS uses the ultra high frequency band to provide faster voice, video and data communications, but there have been significant delays in its attempts to get terminals to work with the new signal.

According to the Marine Corps Systems Command, approximately 4,300 fielded antenna kits are being distributed along with 1,300 diplexer kits which allow vehicular systems to access the satellites.

“The Marine Corps is leading all services in terms of getting MUOS to warfighters,” Eddie Young, project officer of Multiband Radio II Family of Systems at Marine Corps Systems Command, said in a June 11 press release.

“Our Marines find MUOS useful in completing their missions,” he added. “We’ve received a lot of positive feedback thus far.”

MUOS is expected to be 10 times faster than the legacy satellites it was designed to replace.

A May report from the Government Accountability Office noted that the availability of MUOS had been delayed over several years following deficiencies found during operational testing in November 2015. The MUOS delays have also held up development of the Army’s Manpack, some of which are meant to use MUOS. The Manpacks are now slated to be fielded by March 2020—two years later than originally planned. Without MUOS availability, the Manpack would be limited to legacy systems. The GAO report notes that the Army planned to move forward with low-rate production of Manpacks regardless of Navy field testing.

Marines are able to access MUOS with a firmware update to the AN/PRC-117G radio system, which is already in use, as well as an antenna kit.

“MUOS is essentially software and an antenna capability augmenting existing hardware,” said Noah Slemp, systems engineer at MCSC. “It’s similar to adding an application to a cellphone.”

The decision to begin field testing came in March, said a Marine Corps Systems Command spokesperson.

Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.

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