The Distributed Tactical Communications System (DTCS) — managed by DISA’s Enhanced Mobile Satellite Services (EMSS) program management office — enables warfighters at the edge to exchange secure one-to-many communications; tactical-level information that enables mission success and saves lives.
The system uses the EMSS backbone — a secure, commercially-managed (Iridium) satellite-based infrastructure — to transmit voice and data from a mobile, lightweight terminal through a DoD-dedicated gateway.
DTCS is what is known as a “netted” satellite communication capability — which means it allows users to communicate within the group, but prohibits outsiders from accessing the communications.
The end-user device — DTCS-RO (radio-only) — operates using a “push-to-talk” model, similar to a walkie-talkie. One user (the sender), pushes a button, and then relays his or her message. All other device holders within range are able to hear the message, and are able to share responses with the netted group. A simultaneous data function transmits short burst data (SBD) — such as position location information — between devices and the central site monitoring them.
DTCS differs from many other fielded communication systems because it does not require line-of-sight (the ability to see the users you are communicating with) to operate. This distinction has made the DTCS devices particularly valuable in locales with rugged, mountainous terrain (e.g. Afghanistan) that prohibits line-of-sight communication.
Recognition of this system’s unique capability spurred warfighters in the United States Central Command (USCENTCOM) area of responsibility (AOR) to request rapid deployment of DTCS service and devices in the region through the Joint Urgent Operational Need process — managed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) — in Nov. 2009.
At that time DTCS was managed by the Department of the Navy.
OSD approved the request, and — recognizing DISA’s experience in acquiring and fielding large-scale information technology systems — asked DISA to assume program management responsibilities in Dec. 2009.
By Jan. 2010, DISA had received initial program funding.
Under the management of the EMSS Program Office, teams throughout DISA began working together immediately to expedite the acquisition and fielding of DTCS. Team members included contracting officers in both the Defense Information Technology Contracting Organization (DITCO) National Capital Region and DITCO Scott, and the EMSS Gateway staff at DISA Pacific.
Once contracts were in place, DTCS-RO production began, and the initial delivery was received by CENTCOM in April — only five months after the need was identified.
Since then, DISA has fielded more than 5,300 devices to warfighters in Afghanistan and Iraq, where they have been eagerly received.
DISA’s service to the warfighter doesn’t end once the equipment is fielded, though.
“We not only contract for and field the DTCS equipment,” said Clare Grason, contracting officer for EMSS. “We also provide field support; men and women on the ground training end-users to operate the devices.”
Rob Cherny, EMSS branch chief and DTCS program manager, explained that the Program Executive Office – Satellite Communications, Teleport, and Services (PEO-STS) also plays a role in the success of DCTS by performing ongoing research and development (R&D) and test and evaluation (T&E).
“In the future, PEO-STS’s R&D and T&E efforts will provide DTCS with a [National Security Agency] -certified command and control handset, and enhanced capabilities — including expansion of the number of nets and range extension,” he said.
The DTCS team looks forward to continued improvement of the system as more devices are delivered to the CENTCOM AOR.
“It’s the emails and appreciative phone calls … that we all [team members] receive that resonate the most,” said Cherny. “Knowing that the technology this organization furthers means information gained — and more importantly, lives saved.”
For more information, visit the Enhanced Mobile Satellite Services web page or contact the program managment office at (703) 681-0489.