You are thousands of miles from home, hundreds of miles from your forward operation base, and dozens of miles from the closest “friendly.” You are at the sharp pointy tip of the world’s finest fighting force, and your mission and your life depends on a radio.
Back home you carry a cell phone and have learned to avoid places where the cell signal drops out because it’s annoying to lose the call when you’re talking to friends and family. But when your boots are on the ground in theater you have no way of knowing where or when the call may drop. More importantly you have no way of knowing if a dropped call could affect your mission. . . or your life.
Cell phones and tactical military radios only work when they have “line of sight” to the receiving station. If you are over a hilltop or behind an obstruction the radio waves can be blocked causing the call to drop. A decade ago the U.S. Marine Corps started equipping their expeditionary forces with Iridium satellite phones as a stopgap solution to the problem. But the Iridium satellite constellation isn’t designed to handle the load of encrypted and secured military communications. As sergeant Reggie Dela Cruz found on deployment with Marine Corps squadron VMM-263, talking over the Iridium phones in theater was like “talking between two tin cans.”
A decade later, the former Marine sergeant is now a composite fabrication technician at Roccor responsible for building key parts of a radio antenna that will fly on a pathfinding satellite mission to demonstrate if the system can eliminate blind spots and drop-out zones for military tactical communications networks. When the system becomes operational troops won’t have to carry a second “cranky” phone or worry about whether their primary field radio will drop a critical call. They will put their boots on the ground anywhere around the world with peace of mind that all calls will go through all the time!
. . .at least until they come back home and trade their military telecommunications “superpower” for a cell phone that drops calls just like they do for rest of us.