High-tech system allows troops everywhere in world to tune in
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TAMPA, Fla. -- U.S. military personnel serving from the craggy mountain passes of Afghanistan to ocean depths patrolled by submarines, need not miss out on the Super Bowl.
The same technology Raytheon Co. developed to send and receive signals from Predator and Warrior fighter planes makes it possible. It's an extension of the satellite network operated by the Armed Forces Radio and Television System that beams Super Bowl broadcasts to forward operating bases, mess halls and recreation tents for the 350,000 deployed troops.
Instead of providing real-time images used by battlefield commanders and war fighters from unmanned aerial vehicles, this Global Broadcast Service can reach submarines 800 feet below the surface as well as grunts in the boonies. Last year, the technology allowed the sailors aboard the USS Enterprise and its carrier battle group to watch the game in the Pacific.
"What we add to the mix, we take the TV signal and provide it to the harder-to-get-to areas of the world, whether that means ships in the Sea of Japan or the soldier hunkered down atop a mountain in Afghanistan," said Guy DuBois, a former CIA agent now vice president of Operation Technologies & Solutions for Raytheon's Intelligence and Information System. "We take the network feed and provide it to places that were previously unreachable."
On the modern battlefield, U.S. forces are equipped with tools that allow them to receive intelligence and operational data for fighting wars. The GBS provides an additional channel that can be hooked to a TV monitor or, in the remotest areas, a laptop computer. About 50,000 troops get to see the game that way.
The experience may not be the same as watching the game on a high-definition plasma or LCD flat screen from the safety and comfort of a game room, but, for those away from home, it means a connection to the real world for a few hours.
"We don't have Nielsen ratings, but the feedback we get tells us how much they appreciate being able to watch the game. It's a big seller out there," DuBois said.
GBS is an example of how far technology has come. During the first war with Iraq, for example, paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division inching toward the Iraqi border were unable to watch the 1991 game. They settled for hearing the final score (New York Giants 20, Buffalo Bills 19) via short-wave radio.
For anyone who has been able to watch the game while deployed overseas, the morale boost is immeasurable.
"For me, missing the Super Bowl would be like missing Christmas," said Jim Langdon, an Air Force veteran now operations manager for the Pentagon Channel. "It didn't matter where you were on the planet, you didn't want to miss it."
He once was able to watch the game while stationed inside the Arctic Circle in Greenland, although that did not involve GBS.
The armed forces network gets the feed for free courtesy of NBC and the NFL. It does not, however, include commercials. And because there is such hype surrounding Super Bowl ads, that can be a bit of a disappointment.
GBS is a multi-channel broadcast. It currently transmits military updates as well as CNN and Fox News to the troops.
"We broadcast the presidential inauguration, too," said DuBois, who has a bachelor's degree in economics from Washington and Jefferson College, where his two children now attend school.
First Published February 1, 2009 12:00 am