by Staff Writers
Washington DC (SPX) Jun 12, 2012
On the face of it, the job appeared fairly straight forward: visit 170 existing VSAT antennas at military outposts spread over a country the size of California, make sure everything was working properly and then repoint the antennas to connect with one of two commercial satellites, completing the project in 45 days.
The only problem is that the country was Iraq, and the recent pullout of the U.S. military had created a bit of a tenuous security situation for contractors traveling about the country.
The logistics of fulfilling the contract initially made both Intelsat General Corp. and 3Di Technologies hesitant about whether to bid on the project. But when the two companies learned of their mutual interest in the fall of 2011, they teamed up on a bid that won the $80 million contract, awarded by the U.S. Army Communications and Electronics Command (CECOM), Foreign Military Sale branch, to support the Iraqi Ministry of Defense.
"This was a very aggressive transition plan, with a lot of activity in a short amount of time," said Ian Palmer, president of 3Di, explaining that the shift from the previous satellite service to Intelsat General had to happen quickly and seamlessly. "Once the stopwatch started, we had to knock out three to four sites a day to meet the schedule."
The satellite antennas are located throughout Iraq, at military bases and outposts where U.S. troops had been stationed alongside the Iraqi soldiers until being withdrawn in late 2011. Of the 170 antennas and terminals, 150 of them support five different sub-networks of the Iraqi military for command and control, veterans' affairs, maintenance, human resources and intelligence activities. The remaining 20 support a video teleconferencing network connecting the military facilities.
Palmer said the key to fulfilling the contract was having contacts within the country who could perform the necessary maintenance on each terminal and repoint the satellite antennas to bring the network on-line. He said that following the withdrawal of the U.S. military, the Iraqi government had put in place new visa and security requirements that made it difficult to bring in personnel from outside on short notice to do the job.
Working with people already in Iraq, he said 3Di put together a group of about 25 technicians and created four crews, with one assigned to each of the north, south, east and west quadrants of Iraq.
John Rasmussen, Senior Director of Business Development at IGC, said that when a crew visited a site, it would do any required maintenance and then repoint the antenna to the Intelsat 901 satellite. The terminals in the video teleconferencing network did not require repointing because 3Di was able to provide capacity on the Telstar-12 satellite on which these terminals already had been operating.
He said that once connected, engineers at 3Di's NOC and the Intelsat Secure Operations Center (ISOC) in Atlanta downloaded new software to reconfigure the iDirect modem on the terminal in Iraq and then run a series of tests to make sure everything worked properly.
Palmer said that because of the varied condition of the antennas and terminals at the sites, each presented a unique set of minor issues that had to be resolved, but none were serious enough to cause delays in the schedule. The project was completed on time and the network became fully operational in March.
Over the three-year life of the contract, 3Di will continue to provide maintenance teams to service the locations, with between 10 and 20 people working on the project in Iraq at any given time. In addition to providing bandwidth to 3Di, Intelsat General will monitor the network and provide needed software upgrades to the modems through the iDirect hub at the company's Mountainside Teleport in Maryland.
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