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U.S. Air Force awards $90 million contract for new tactical radios for troops

A joint terminal attack controller checks his radio before the start of the operational assessment of the Hand Held Link 16 radio March 23, 2016, at the Nevada Test and Training Range. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Nathan Byrnes)

Carlsbad satellite Internet firm Viasat netted a contract from the U.S. Air Force to supply handheld Battlefield Awareness and Targeting System radios to improve communications between ground forces and aircraft providing close air support.

The contract for Viasat’s Link 16 radios — known as BATS-D — has a maximum value of $90 million. The devices will be used in special operations missions. Link 16 is a line-of-sight military wireless communications system that provides a digital picture of the battlefield to pilots, ships and helicopters.

Viasat has shipped nearly 2,500 of these handheld radios worldwide to military customers. They were first certified for production in March 2018.

“We continue to see strong demand for its use across multiple military branches, and among coalition partners, as it has the proven ability to significantly enhance situational awareness, improve mission coordination and accelerate decision timelines in a multi-domain battlespace,” said Ken Peterman, head of Viasat’s defense division.

Although Viasat is best known for delivering satellite Internet to connect rural homes and to power in-flight Wi-Fi for commercial airlines, the company also has a significant defense/government business. Its defense arm is focused around mobile networking, cybersecurity, information assurance, satellite communications and cloud-enabled capabilities.

Annual revenue from Viasat’s defense/government business topped $1 billion for the first time last year.

Viasat’s battlefield radios are the first handheld Link 16 devices that deliver targeting and situational awareness data to aircraft flying overhead in near real-time. They help cut the time required to pinpoint targets, improve accuracy and reduce the risk of friendly fire casualties.

Peterman said the handheld BATS-D radio was developed outside of traditional defense procurement process “because our veterans, technologists and engineers knew there was a better way to conduct close air support missions.”

Under a traditional program of record procurement, it could have taken up to eight years to get the radios widely deployed in the field, he said.

“In just 17 months, Viasat took the concept of a handheld Link 16 radio, sketched on the back of a napkin, to delivering a number of BATS-D units to Special Forces Joint Terminal Attack Controllers to undergo operational assessment,” he said. “Shortly thereafter, the BATS-D radio successfully completed the assessment and entered production. “


© 2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune