by Justin Oakes
66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
1/14/2015 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- The
nuclear satellite communication terminals that connect U.S. leaders to
Minuteman combat crews in the event of a nuclear attack are currently
undergoing an upgrade and scheduled to begin operational testing this
Simply put, the Air Force will be updating its intercontinental
ballistic missile, or ICBM, communication systems located in the ICBM
Launch Control Centers. This is an effort led by the Minuteman Minimum
Essential Emergency Communications Network Program Upgrade team, or MMPU
for short, at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass. MMPU will be the first Air
Force Advanced Extremely High Frequency terminal fielded in support of
the new AEHF satellite architecture.
Using extremely high frequency signals from a Milstar satellite, current
terminals receive emergency action messages and serve as the primary
SATCOM system for ICBM LCCs. The development of the AEHF satellite
constellation to replace Milstar requires the Air Force to upgrade its
hardware to support AEHF operations.
According to program officials, the month-long operational testing
period will determine how well the new equipment operates in the field
while running on active networks.
"The end result is an upgrade that will bring numerous benefits,
including an expansion in capability, enhanced operator control and a
state-of-the-art security architecture," said Brett Fagan, MMPU program
manager. "For example, backwards compatibility is crucial. After we
modify the existing EHF terminals, we will be able to communicate with
both AEHF satellite and Milstar EHF constellations."
One of the most notable capability improvements comes in the form of
data rate transfers. Under the AEHF satellite constellation, messages
are transmitted many times faster than the current Milstar system.
In addition to increased data rates, MMPU will provide a state-of-the-art nuclear security architecture.
"When dealing with nuclear assets, it goes without saying that having
the most up-to-date security technology is critical," Fagan said. "The
upgraded terminals will be equipped with the latest crypto modifications
and modern crypto key designs."
Another key difference between the legacy system and MMPU's version
pertains specifically to Minuteman combat crew operators -- MMPU gives
them more control. LCC operators will now have the ability to switch
satellites through the terminal, eliminating the need for maintenance
crew dispatch to change the terminal communication plans.
"Many LCCs are not easy to get to, so the ability to avoid the dispatch
of maintenance teams for routine tasks ensures a more seamless mission
capability," Fagan said.
MMPU program officials remain optimistic that the upgrade will reach
initial operational capability in early 2016. Ultimately, the team
intends to modify all the terminals within the LCCs managed by three
bases: Malmstrom AFB, Mont.; F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo.; and Minot AFB, N.D.
"MMPU provides our national leadership with an advanced, secure and
agile C3 capability for our ICBM forces, and will greatly enhance crew
communications," said Col. Todd Krueger, Space, Aerial and Nuclear
Networks Division senior materiel leader. "A successful operational test
is the last major step before fielding this critical system. We are
ready to go, and I'm confident we will succeed."