News: 13th MEU tests new communication game changer for approaching deployment
Story by Sgt. Christopher O'Quin
NAVAL AIR FACILITY EL CENTRO, Calif. – The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit will be first MEU to bring GATR’s with them on their Western Pacific Deployment in 2013. No, not the fearsome jagged toothed reptilians and apex predators, but a state-of-the-art communication tool able to rapidly transmit and receive data. Though actual gators would be an epic mascot for the MEU deployment.
The GATR, or Ground Antenna Transmit Receive, is an inflatable satellite antenna that brings new levels of lighter-weight expeditionary features to the 13th MEU through its efficiency, portability and functionality.
Its function is to uplink with satellites and provide secure and unsecured internet to a shore-based command operations center and other supporting elements of the 13th MEU. At first glance, it resembles a tan, oversized beach ball, but it is this design that enables the inflatable dish to maintain convenient transportability.
“The best way to describe how the antenna works, is like opening up a pipe to let water flow through, except it’s a flow of internet,” said Cpl. Vincent L. Ferdinandi, transmissions chief, Communications Section, Command Element, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and Clark, N.J. native.
The compact GATR system with the hub modem package replaces the Phoenix Tactical SHF Satellite Terminal (TSST), a 13-ton system that includes a generator trailer and two vehicles. Each GATR system fits in six large pelican cases and can be brought on aircraft and transported by hand also saving space inside the ship.
“Currently, we’ve conducted more than seven field exercises with the GATR/Hub Modem Package … providing 13th MEU with redundant transmission paths and an overall aggregate of anywhere from 6 to 8 megabytes per second, more than double what a MEU would normally expect to receive,” said Capt. Jeffrey M. Rohman, assistant communications officer, Command Element, 13th MEU, and Pensacola Fla. Native. “We’ve also scaled down our embark footprint to six transit cases weighing 696 pounds, from the two Humvees, trailer, and MEP-803 generator requirement with the Phoenix terminal that weighs more than 26,000 pounds,” said Rohman “We’ve also reduced our power consumption to under two kilowatts from the 10kw Phoenix terminal requirement.”
Since the communications sections received the system almost a year ago, the Marines with the “Fighting 13th” have spent many, many hours getting familiarized with how to set up the GATR equipment. Recently, the 13th MEU Marines brought out the gear for Ground Realistic Urban Training, an exercise that spans three states during nine days.
“We set up both of our systems in about an hour and since we’ve been out here in El Centro, we’ve had constant communication with everyone,” said Ferdinandi. “It has worked really well and given us what we need to operate in the field.”
With its portability, with its energy efficiency and with its capabilities the GATR can greatly aid the 13th MEU in maintaining its expeditionary versatility. While the system itself bears no semblance to the amphibious apex predator, having the GATR system will make the 13th MEU an apex force of amphibious power, able to better command and control across the areas of operations during their Western Pacific deployment.