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Navy tests global radio system in Arctic

November 30th, 2012 | Hannah Heimbuch Print this article   Email this article  

Navy engineers set up shop across Alaska's Arctic last Wednesday for a first-time test of a critical communications system.

The Navy was pleased to announce a successful transmission, one that connects individual radios across thousands of miles in inclement weather conditions.

They were able to connect engineers in Barrow, Kotzebue and Anchorage, to Navy headquarters in Colorado and Virginia — all via handheld devices.

The Distributed Tactical Communications System (DTCS) utilizes multi-satellite, multi-spot beam architecture to provide communications on a global capacity.

"We provided the ability for personnel to communicate in the polar regions above the Arctic Circle and provide reach-back, a paramount capability that otherwise does not exist at the tactical level," said DTCS technical manager, Igor Marchosky in a Navy release. "We tested the global architecture part of the DTCS system, and it worked as designed."

This phase of the military endeavor uses satellites that are in a low-earth orbit, helping them to provide coverage in the Arctic — an area that has posed problems for communications in the past. Current systems of communication have been unreliable in the region.

The new system seems to have solved that issue for now.

"In spite of inclement weather and the elements of the polar region environment, we all had casual, normal conversation among the sites," said DTCS Program Manager, Nathan Rodecap in the release.

The DTCS system integrated commercially available hardware with applied science, technology and systems developed by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory and the Naval Surface Warfare Dahlgren Division.

There has been marked criticism from Arctic experts and Alaska's congressional delegation concerning lack of defense and maneuverability infrastructure in the U.S. Arctic. The federal government has been often accused as of late of lagging behind other polar countries in the race for North Pole power.

"The Phase 3 capability will be adopted by all combatant commands and used in a wider range of missions such as continuous, robust, Arctic communications," said DTCS Deputy Technical Manager, John Giscard, who tested the system on site with Joint Task Force Alaska leadership in Anchorage. "Its global communications can be applied to search and rescue, ship patrols, and natural disasters when responders' line of sight won't work as well."

Though effective communications seems to be one step in a more involved role in the Arctic, the system — run through the 66-satelittle constellation called Iridium — was developed for more than just talk above the Arctic Circle.

It provides global availability for individuals and vehicles both in the air and on the ground. DTCS was developed seven years ago, and more than 7,000 radios were distributed to American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan under its Phase 2 capabilities.

The two earlier phases assisted warfighters who didn't have access to mobile communications, providing them with satellite communication.

This new step builds on the satellite abilities by boosting range, capacity, reliability and utility. 

"Phase 3 testing demonstrated the global architecture," said Rodecap. "We've been successful in each prior phase, and we also expect to be successful in the evaluation and operationalization of Phase 3."

Once it's officially in action, this newest communications capacity is intended to enable communications anywhere at any time. The hope is to get rid of the digital divide and provide widespread access.

"The DTCS Phase 3 demonstration at NSWC Dahlgren showed how an innovative and unique application of commercial space systems can be utilized to bring broad area command and control capability to the tactical level," said Navy Capt. Bruce Dickey, program executive office space systems technical advisor. 

For more information on the DTCS system, visit

Hannah Heimbuch can be reached at


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