Tech

June 7, 2012

Squadron nears completion of ballistic missile warning communications upgrade

by Scott Prater
Schriever AFB, Colo.

A Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile configured with a National Nuclear Security Administration joint test assembly launches May 22, 2012, from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The 50th Space Communications Squadron recently completed upgrades to ballistic missile warning sensors around the world.

Ballistic missile warning sensors at sites around the world provide information vital to U.S. national security.

When the link connecting those sensors to decision makers at the North American Aerospace Defense Command was in jeopardy of failing, the Air Force called on the 50th Space Communications Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., to help remedy the situation.

Six years and $6 million later, contractor crews working for the 50th SCS stand ready to flip the switch on a final upgrade that should safeguard the vital link for years to come, officials said.

The Air Force Space Command Digital Integrated Network, known as SDIN, has been around for decades. That means the actual communication equipment used to create the network has also been around for decades.

When the manufacturer of the 1980s-era equipment stopped building new machines, Air Force leaders knew they needed to create a plan for maintaining the legacy hardware, while at the same time developing, testing and implementing modern replacements.

“All of the legacy equipment, known as Timeplex, was growing beyond its end of life, so we’ve been under pressure to complete the upgrades,” said Mike Hamilton, the SDIN program manager. “Since the Timeplex manufacturer couldn’t support the aging equipment, we had to stockpile spare parts.”

Essentially, crews were in a race to replace the legacy equipment with upgraded machines before the 50th SCS ran out of spares, all of which was much easier said than done, officials said.

The modern equipment, referred to as Juniper, needed to be installed, painstakingly tested and then approved before it could replace the older communication equipment at sensor sites around the world. All the work was performed onsite at each SDIN sensor site, some of which exist in remote locations.

Adding to the complexity of the project was the fact that the upgrade needed to occur without a disruption in service. Since more than seven worldwide entities – including Russia, China, North Korea and Iran – possess the capability to launch a ballistic missile, according to the National Intelligence Council, the system’s importance is immeasurable.

“The SDIN network’s primary function is 100 percent reliability,” Hamilton said. “It has a lot of redundancy in both equipment and routing built into the network as well as alternative routing in case of failure. It’s an extremely robust network because it has to be.”

Hamilton indicated that missile warning or integrated tactical warning and attack assessment isn’t the only mission SDIN supports. It also provides a data link for missions such as Milstar, controlled by the 4th Space Operations Squadron here, and the space-based infrared system.

Timeplex served its nation and military well and was an extremely reliable system, but the Juniper equipment is truly an upgrade, Hamilton said. Juniper supports all of the legacy protocols as well as newer bandwidths and newer protocols. Plus, it is still in production so the manufacturer can support and warrant all of the products involved.

The 50th SCS will wrap up the project soon. Squadron leaders said they expect the final SDIN equipment upgrade to tentatively occur at a sensor site somewhere around the world this September.

“The SDIN network is a unique and key enabler of the AFSPC, integrated tactical warning and attack assessment, and space command and control missions,” said Ward Adams, the 50th SCS Plans and Resources Flight chief. “SDIN allows decision makers to get the right information on time.”




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