The project manager of the Army's Defense Communications and Army Transmission Systems (DCATS) is juggling multiple major satellite and communications efforts, with one foot in the present and one in the future. That's the nature of the job today — running satellite communications around the world for the military while planning meticulously for the coming years and emerging technologies.
"The new chief of staff put out his three priorities, which were readiness, future of the Army and take care of the troops. I think everybody can nest in that, right?" said COL Charles Stein, DCATS project manager. "We have current fight, future fight and taking care of people. Those would be our three priorities, also … we are nesting into our higher priorities."
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At DCATS, those priorities currently center on a handful of core areas, including hammering out future requirements and strategies for programs like the worldwide commercial satellite communications network Combat Service Support Very Small Aperture Terminal (CSS VSAT), the Wideband Enterprise Satellite Systems' ongoing modernization and the land mobile radio communications system.
Stein recently sat down with C4ISR & Networks Senior Staff Writer Amber Corrin to talk about what he's focused on, where his programs are headed next and how an old version of a vehicular intercom systems (VIS) headset ended up on his desk.
C4ISRNET: Why don't you give us a lay of the land of your main programs?
COL CHARLES STEIN: Really there are four product offices under us. The first one would be the quickest, vehicular intercom systems, and actually for that I have a visual aid.
Roughly speaking, there are a bunch of boxes in, let's say, an Abrams tank or a Bradley. You can talk to the gunner or the driver. I was on a convoy [in Afghanistan when I heard], 'Get out of the vehicle, get out of the vehicle!' I got out, threw this in my bag. I unpacked it here. I'm like, 'Oh my gosh, I have one of these things.' Anyway, that is VIS. It does not really fit our portfolio, because we typically do long-haul and terrestrial communications, satcom or long-haul comms. It's sort of out of place … but there is a move afoot to basically put it where it would probably serve the Army better, which may be out of this [program executive office].
The next one is LMR, or land mobile radio. Land mobile radio, to give you a visual for that, is what every fireman or policeman on post has, that big kind of brick that sits on their hip, the big walkie-talkie-type thing, but it is more than a walkie-talkie because it typically goes through a dispatch area. It is set up in talk groups so that certain people can talk to certain people. When you go off post, it has mutual aid. When you see the policeman here, you can talk to the policeman in Fairfax County. There are roughly 70 in the U.S. … In the states, it is not only the police and fire, it is the direct logistic. If your water line breaks in housing over here, they call and a person is dispatched on the same dispatch that the police and fire are on. It's kind of just one big system.
DWTS, Defense Wide Transmission Systems, is interesting in that they have a couple of different products. One big one, CSS VSAT, is what the community uses for their satellite communication. It is a small aperture antenna that goes through the log units … we've run it here for years. It is a huge success.
Now, eventually, with convergence it will probably get [integrated] into [Warfighter Information Network-Tactical], but that will be way down the road.
The last is WESS, Wideband Enterprise Satellite Systems; it's the biggest. It has got the [Army deputy chief of staff/G-8] funding. It is probably the largest on the block and it does X- and Ka-band satellite communications. Literally, they are all over the world. What they are doing now is called MET, modernization of enterprise terminals. There are actually 11 out there right now. There are seven in progress. There will be a total of 94 when they are complete. We do that for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. We are putting those terminals all over the world.
C4ISRNET: So, in terms of those chief of staff priorities, what are you doing for the current fight and the future fight?
STEIN: The current fight, we are doing things like fielding those METs. So that's a big one.
For the current fight, we are using a contract vehicle called communication transmission systems, CTS. It's our [roughly] $4 billion indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract vehicle … and that contract goes out to September 2018. We are going to try to use that as much as possible. There are 12 vendors on it, but, quite honestly, they reach out and touch a lot of other vendors. It really serves the whole community.
For CSS VSAT, right now, we are basically in sustainment, but we've had a lot of upgrades, changing the modems, changing different parts to keep it up to standard. I tell you … information assurance is a challenge everywhere. Quite honestly, switching from the [DoD Information Assurance Certification and Accreditation Proces] to the risk management framework, I guess it's new to everybody, but it is going to take more resources to meet the challenge, to do it to standard.
Information assurance is happening every day in the background. They are thwarting attacks or potential attacks every day. I think that is going to be the norm now. People are getting smarter and technologies are getting better.
I guess summarizing what we have done, what we are doing with LMR, with VIS, that is pretty easy. We are fielding capabilities right now.
The future fight, the long-range strategy is a little different. There's the long range investment requirements analysis, LRIRA … it's basically how are we spending [research, development, testing and evaluation] dollars. How are we looking at the future? How are you looking at your investment that would make wise decisions in the future? We've partnered with Space and Missile Defense Command; they've done a capabilities-based assessment to look for capability gaps. We are partnering to see how we can assist with the future challenges.
C4ISRNET: You've been on the job here for a year now. What's exciting for you?
STEIN: The personnel — our people. DCATS has some very technical people … everybody probably gets that. What they don't get is that they did a [Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission] move a few years ago. A lot of these folks thought highly enough of the mission to say, 'I am going to leave my house in New Jersey and I am going to move to Belvoir.' We have an employee here whose father was in satcom. He joined the Army to be in satcom. He drives two hours one way from Maryland. Can you imagine, four hours a day on the road? He is in a leadership position here. He said he absolutely loves it. His father is in it. His brother does basically the same thing for another organization going to be unnamed. He is here. I ask him every day, 'Are you good to go?' He says, 'I love it here. I love the mission we do.' To have that kind of a background and skin in the game, I mean truly skin in the game, is kind of an interesting story.
Originally published Sept. 21, 2015.