Satellites Become Vital to Signal Success
Data, video and imagery drive communication requirements during Desert Storm and beyond.
This is part of a series of interviews with signaleers, one for
each of SIGNAL Magazine’s seven decades, to commemorate
the 70th anniversary of AFCEA International.
When David Baciocco began flying planes for the Navy aboard the USS Nimitz in 1987, satellite com- munications did not exist on aircraft. Instead he mployed line of sight and high frequency, push-to-talk communications to complete missions.
Now the director of government solutions
for Raytheon Applied Signal Technology Inc.,
Baciocco witnessed immense change between
the years 1986 and 1995 in regard to signal
communications technologies and information technology functions.
Baciocco started out as an operator and
relied on flashing lights and flags, among
other things, to communicate. “We had orders
that said, ‘Go forth and do good things. These
are your positions.’ And then we reported back
over high frequency communications and it worked,” he says.
“You have more ability to do processing on your iPhone now
than I did when I got to that ship in 1987. But we managed.”
Video became extremely important during this time
period, Baciocco acknowledges. It began with reconnais-
sance missions, but when the demand for communications
between commanders grew, teleconferencing changed tre-
mendously the need for satellite communications.
The Navy began by using ultra high frequency satellite
communications at a very low data rate, principally for voice
communications. Then it moved to a defense satellite communications system put up on either U.S. coast to provide
nuclear-survivable communications. “The most you could get
through on what they called the stress channel, when a transponder was completely saturated with power, was 75 bits.
But that was enough. [The Navy] just wanted to make sure it
could absolutely, positively be delivered when you needed it
to be,” Baciocco says.
Prior to operation Desert Storm, the Navy had four or five
command ships with this type of satellite communication
capability, and the most they were getting was 9. 6 kilobits per
second. During Desert Storm, the Navy needed to coordinate
with the Air Force to receive orders from the computer-generated air tasking order (ATO). The ATO was hundreds
of pages thick and specified the exact details of operation for
every aircraft in the campaign. The only way to get it to the
Navy was to physically print it out and fly it out to the ships.
The Air Force did not have a bandwidth problem because it
was onshore, so the Navy had to play catch-up, Baciocco says.
“We took Marine Corps and Army ground terminals, shel-
terized them, put them on the flight deck and went with it. We
still didn’t get a whole lot of data rate, but we finally had con-
nectivity,” Baciocco relates.
Commercial communications also have changed drastically
since 1986. During Desert Storm it was an 80/20 split between
military and commercial. “I think if you went out there today,
you’d find it’s 90 percent commercial, 10 percent military—not
because we are using less military, but because the requirements for communications have changed,” Baciocco says.
For the past 15 years, the United States has been fighting a
war that principally depends on full-motion
video and wide-area surveillance type sys-
tems that require increased meta commu-
nications, Baciocco asserts. The appetite
does not diminish when it comes to getting
information. Whether all that information is
usable “beats the heck out of me,” Baciocco
states. “I like to think it is.”
Information technology has undergone
a fair amount of change as well. When Bac-
iocco graduated from the Naval Postgraduate
The ability to store things has greatly improved. Processors
have become much faster and much smaller while the data
pass within processors has increased, allowing data to move
more quickly and extend into networking.
“When I got to that battle group staff in February of 1987, I
had a Xerox 860 on my desk that dealt in eight-inch floppies;
it was not networked to anything. And that was kind of cut-
ting edge,” Baciocco says. “Today you can get a laptop with a
500-gigabit hard drive.”
Overall communication is more real-time than in 1986. “If
you need something right now it can be pushed to you via
email or the Internet. There are help desks and operation cen-
ters that you can deal with directly. Back then, the only way
to make sure something got there in real time was to pick up
a radio and call somebody,” he observes.
Challenges still arise with today’s communications, though.
“Sometimes you’ll find that you send an email to someone
to do something and you don’t hear back from them. You
assume they did it even though in reality they broke their arm
yesterday, need surgery and aren’t checking their email,” Baciocco says. And with the exception of video teleconferencing,
it is less personal. “I prefer the personal touch,” he declares.
BY JULIANNE SIMPSON
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