Sailors and Marines root for the teams while watching Super Bowl XLII in the hangar bay aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Nimitz. The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group departed San Diego Jan. 24, 2008, on a regularly scheduled Western Pacific deployment. (MCSN MICHAEL N. TIALEMASUNU / NAVY)
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On Super Bowl Sunday, about 300,000 deployed troops nearest to civilization — or what passes for it — will be able to easily tune in to the American Forces Radio and Television Service to watch the NBC broadcast of the big game.
But thanks to modern technology, as many as 50,000 service members deployed to the most remote and rugged locations — think the mountains of Afghanistan, or a submerged submarine — also will be able to catch the big game.
The remote-areas feed comes courtesy of the same Raytheon system that carries classified big-bandwidth operational and intelligence data and, to some locations, distance-learning classes. Raytheon has partnered with the Air Force, which manages daily operations of the Global Broadcast Service, to carry the Super Bowl on its fast-growing third satellite channel that provides morale services, such as 24-hour access to CNN.
And before you ask: The game broadcast won't interfere with the transmission of vital live unmanned aerial vehicle imagery or any other intelligence data on the GBS.
"It's a multi-channel broadcast," said Guy DuBois, vice president of operational technologies and solutions for Raytheon's intelligence and information systems directorate. "So we will use whatever channel is available without disturbing the operations mission."
Most troops will see the game via conventional hookups with AFRTS. To get to more remote areas, ultra-high frequency signals are broadcast from three locations — Norfolk, Va.; Sigonella, Italy; and Wahiawa, Hawaii — and those signals blanket much of the world.
The signals are redirected by orbiting government or commercial satellites, based on guidance provided by in-theater satellite broadcast managers, who pass along command priorities and available beams and transponders back to Raytheon, which then programs that information into the broadcast system.
On the ground, units snag the signal with a "receive suite," and route it to nearby TV sets via a land line. But a service member in the most remote circumstances armed with the portable version of the suite with the antenna can pick up the signal on a laptop computer, straight from the satellite, DuBois said.
Raytheon and the Air Force have operated the GBS for the past 11 years, and broadcasted the Super Bowl since 2001. But, DuBois explained, "It was somewhat constrained by the older version of the system, and we had certain limitations."
In the past couple of years, the system has been upgraded and now provides more bandwidth as well as more satellites to redirect the broadcasts. Last year's Super Bowl, for instance, could be seen aboard every Navy ship in the Pacific, DuBois said.
For Raytheon, the payoff comes in being able to provide all the data — operational and morale-lifting alike.
"It's tremendously rewarding," DuBois said. "It really inspires our engineers and our operators — particularly when you talk to people who've come back from a long tour on a Navy ship, or somebody who's just come back from Afghanistan, and they tell you about how they used the system."
The Super Bowl broadcast, he said, serves to give the public a peek at a vital military capability that remains largely out of view.
"What's nice about this is, this is something we can talk about openly, and know we've made a contribution."