QUANTICO, Va.–The vision of a Marine Corps system that provides an over-the-horizon (OTH), on-the-move (OTM) comms capability will be one step closer after the Distributed Tactical Communications System (DTCS) is tested with live forces in early December, project officers from the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab said recently

“We’ve already proven the netted-Iridium concept,” John Schultz, project officer at the Lab, told sister publication Defense Daily at the Modern Day Marine Expo here. “Now we’re going to do a full-up demonstration with an experimental platoon, a hybrid platoon and a legacy [equipment] platoon…[and] it will show that there is nothing like this in the fleet right now.”

DTCS development began under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) formed by the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC), Dahlgren Division, the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab and Iridium Satellite.

The program is designed to provide OTH, OTM, beyond line-of-sight (BLOS) push-to-talk tactical voice and limited data communications capability through a broadcast Command and Control (C2) architecture without the need for ground infrastructure.

Such a system is especially important now because of the communications problems forces are experiencing in the rugged, mountainous terrain of Afghanistan. DTCS was deployed to satisfy U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Joint Urgent Operational Need Statement and the system is currently being used by CENTCOM.

Since a September 2008 Limited User Evaluation (LUE), between three and five NSWC Dahlgren engineers have been conducting DTCS training and field support to warfighters in Afghanistan.

The Netted Iridium concept gets around the chief limitation of tactical satellite communications in terrain like that in Afghanistan, a Marine official from the Lab said. “There is no problem of the lookup angle, trying to set up and finding that there is always a mountain in the way.”

Iridium satellites are always on the move, with a new one coming along every seven to nine minutes, Schultz said.

“When all other comms fail, with this, even if I’m in a canyon, I know that I can still talk back to Battalion,” the Marine said.

Later phases of the program will look to enhance the current system by providing greater range–beyond 200 miles–and increased system capacity, Schultz said.

For now, the concept has been proven and the functionality will continue to be demonstrated. The decision as to what comes next with the program ultimately falls with the Marine Corps Systems Command.