The U.S. Space Force squadron charged with operating the military’s most secure communications satellites has received a new advanced terminal that has been in development for years.
The new Family of Advanced Beyond-Line-of-Sight Terminal (FAB-T) was installed in late June at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, where the 4th Space Operations Squadron will use it to control protected military communications satellites.
“The terminals we were using before couldn’t control some of the more advanced functions on our systems,” Staff Sgt. Edgar Diamond, an officer within the 4th SOPS, said in a press release. “Our old system was not user friendly in the least. If you clicked the wrong thing it would log you off the system. It was a pain and couldn’t be maintained by Airmen. The FAB-T is more efficient and is going to be entirely Airman maintained.”
FAB-T will be used for satellite telemetry, tracking and commanding the Advanced Extremely High Frequency constellation, which replaces the MILSTAR constellation in providing protected, anti-jamming communication for high-priority military assets and missions. AEHF satellites and FAB-T terminals are designed to provide survivable, strategic nuclear and non-nuclear command and control, among other things. Just one AEHF satellite has three times the capacity of the entire MILSTAR constellation.
Built by Raytheon, the FAB-T program is significantly behind its initial schedule due in part to software deficiencies. A 2019 Government Accountability Office report warned that as “FAB-T delays mount, the first launched AEHF satellite might near the end of its projected 14-year operational lifespan by the time FAB-T is available.” The first AEHF satellite launched in 2010. The sixth and final AEHF satellite was launched in March.
Other parts of the system are still in development, such as the Forced Element Terminals that will extend these communication capabilities to the B-52 and RC-135. Raytheon was awarded a $442 million contract in January to build those terminals. Work on that contract is expected to be completed in August 2023.
An Air Force report on FAB-T released earlier this year noted that U.S. Strategic Command obtained early operation use of FAB-T in June 2019, and the Air Force plans to begin installing them at operational sites in fiscal 2020.
The June installation marks the first FAB-T for the 4th SOPS and the unit plans to install more FAB-T terminals in the future. The 50th Space Wing leaders also emphasized the new system is far simpler to use and easier to maintain than its predecessor.
“To log onto a satellite with our old system was like a 20-page checklist,” said Diamond. “It took 30-45 minutes just to get online. With the FAB-T, it’s a half-page checklist and [you can be] online in maybe 10-15 minutes.
“The FAB-T is smaller, faster and easier to repair than what we were previously using,” he added. “It’ll significantly cut down on down time involved with maintenance. With the FAB-T, it takes only 30 minutes to repair, whereas our old system took all day.”
Nathan Strout was the staff editor at C4ISRNET, where he covered the intelligence community.