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GBS: what it is, what it does, and why you should care.


Over the years the Army has faced the problem of getting large imagery files and unmanned aircraft system (UAS) full motion video (FMV) to ground commanders where it can be most relevant to time sensitive operations. The Global Broadcast Service (GBS) is the current design fielded to military units, specifically divisions, brigades, and most recently, battalions. The GBS is a very versatile open architecture system which can be located with the S6 or the S2 depending on decisions made.


Most units have received the GBS and only use about a quarter of its full potential; however, this is not the fault of the unit, the Soldiers, or the fielding team. Trained personnel may leave, and there is no military occupational specialty (MOS) on any unit's modified table of organization and equipment that provides for a GBS operator.

But how can you know what you are missing if you don't fully understand what a GBS is and can do?

When you look at the brochure for the GBS you find one of those cryptic all-in-one definitions:

"GBS is an extension of the Global Information Grid (GIG) that provides worldwide, high-capacity, oneway transmission of video and other IP streaming data along with imagery, web sites and other file based information."

You are still left wondering, "But what does it do?"

If we rewrite this definition in a way that makes it more palatable to the average Soldier it would be something like this:

"A satellite TV receiver like system that provides news and military television stations, various UAS video channels, classified large data sets (imagery files) unclassified large data sets (maps and terrain products), and regular classified web page pulls (daily read files.)"

So, what comes in that big box?

The basic GBS that is fielded to Army units is the AN/TSR-8 which comes in three transit cases, weighs approximately 250 pounds, and costs roughly $150,000. It consists of a Next Generation Receive Terminal (NGRT) and a Receive Broadcast Manager (RBM).


The NGRT is readily recognizable to everyone as the dish antenna. The RBM is a very densely packed case with a satellite receiver, KG-250 Encryptor, two network switches, and a classified laptop, all rack mounted. In addition to the rack mounted equipment, there is one other unclassified laptop associated with the RBM which normally resides either on top or next to the transit case. All of the components have custom cut foam dividers and sections with laminated cards attached to each transit case showing a complete parts list with stowage location. For $150,000, you get a very well packed, deployable system.

Okay, if it's densely packed, how can it be such an open architecture?

While the GBS is a tightly packed system, it has a very robust and open architecture which allows it to be configured for maximum integration into whatever organic architecture a unit has, provide the basis of a small network, or act as a stand-alone system with limited capabilities. This is accomplished in the design and by leaving the component items in a basic configuration with administrator privileges. This immediately sends most S6 shops into a state of panic as it can not be locked down, it can not be controlled, and it can not be forced into unusable submission.

In order for the GBS to work efficiently, it has to have services running that are usually denied on networks because they are considered vulnerabilities, but if it is incorporated with these considerations, it can be on the network. Another key element to this open architecture is the managed network switch which allows the unit to easily connect a variety of computers or systems together with the GBS such as a Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT) Cell.

This raises a big question, "Where should the GBS be located within the staff organization?" As mentioned earlier, the S6 will hate integrating the GBS and most of the functionality of the GBS is a force multiplier for the S2. So for most units it should be an easy decision to place the GBS under the control of the S2 with some coordination with the S6 in order to provide video feeds to the various staff elements that require it. Ideally the GBS is the networking nexus for the GEOINT cell and has direct communication with the Imagery Workstation System (IWS), and Digital Topographic Support System (DTSS). The IWS provides the unit's MOS 35G Imagery Analyst with a powerful toolset for exploitation and production of overhead still imagery with Socet GXP; ground moving target indicator (GMTI) data with Moving Intelligence (MOVINT) client; FMV data with Insyte, and shape file production with Google Earth and FalconView-all on a compact portable workstation with dual monitors and 4 terrabytes of storage. The DTSS accepts topographic and multi-spectral imagery data from national and commercial sources to create intervisibility, mobility, environmental, and 3D terrain visualizations as well as the creation, augmentation, modification, and management of topographic data; while providing updated map background and terrain intelligence information to all Army Battle Command Systems. The reasoning for this central location is that both the IWS and the DTSS exploit very large data sets which can easily be in excess of 1 gigabyte and by isolating that traffic to a closed network, it alleviates congestion on the unit's networks (See also the article CTC Support by the 3d MI: A Retrospective Evaluation in this issue).

So, we've decided where it goes ... now what makes it go?

It is essential that the GBS be viewed as a system in that if any component is left out you may lose a capability or potentially any capability with the GBS. Some examples are:

1. Forget the crypto and you only get unclassified video and data, no UAS and no imagery for the IWS.

2. Forget any component of the NGRT other than the coaxial cable (because it can be substituted by any coaxial cable) and you are completely nonoperational.

3. Forget the little Smartcard and you again lose all unclassified feeds.

4. Forget the classified laptop or its hard drive and you get only unclassified information.

The GBS is a very unique piece of equipment and finding substitute or interchangeable parts with other Army systems is rare. The few generic parts are: the coaxial cable; the Ethernet cable; power supplies for the laptops; the compass; stakes, and grounding equipment.

Besides the equipment it is necessary to plan for the employment of the GBS. The antenna must be located where it will be undisturbed and secure. It is a receive-only system so there isn't a radiation concern; however, its location should be coordinated with the unit's frequency manager, usually located in the S6, so that there is little or no interference from other transmitters. A clear line of site to the target satellite's location is necessary in order to ensure a solid signal. No trees, buildings, tents, generators, or other obstructions should be in the way. Running from the RBM suite to the NGRT antenna, is a 150 foot cable which allows for options when looking for a good location.

Another consideration is power, the RBM has only one electrical plug and the NGRT has one plug, but these are large amperage requirements and should not be considered the same as a normal laptop plugged into a circuit. It is not uncommon to find that the circuit that the GBS is plugged into will overload and flip a breaker; therefore, plan your power layout accordingly or expect problems.

Finally for a good emplacement you must have a good ground. This is sensitive equipment with components that are exposed to the elements and a poor ground can either injure a Soldier or possibly cause damage to the equipment.

The best way to keep a GBS working is to use it, use it, use it.

It may sound trivial or trite, but the more Soldiers use a GBS in conjunction with the other systems, the more proficient they become. They begin to notice when things start running slow and they need to perform basic maintenance on the file systems by deleting old files and keeping the database clean. They identify how to connect different systems and handle different data types which are provided by the GBS. They have an opportunity to download relevant imagery in a timely fashion for real-world production requirements in garrison. They can build data sets in preparation for deployment. They can begin to explore the extra capabilities of the GBS which most units never get to such as the regular updates of active web pages hosted throughout the Intelligence Community and providing that information to the rest of the staff.

Ultimately, if the GBS is up, operational and in use, then you know it works and your Soldiers know how to set it up. Practice teardown and setup on a monthly or at least a quarterly basis to ensure those skills stay strong. Soldiers will surprise themselves at how fast they can get from in-the-box to operational with practice.

I know what I am doing ... why is it still not working?!?

The GBS is a very reliable system and the software has been improved over the years to a point that it also is very reliable, so when it does not work, 95 percent of the time it is because the operator has overlooked or failed to check something simple. The first step to correcting a problem during setup is to stop, return to the beginning, and start over. Sometimes it requires having another operator come in and double check or do the setup independently. Examples of simple mistakes that I have seen when Soldiers are having problems are:

* The antennae is pointed 180[degrees] off.

* The frequency in the IRD is incorrectly set because it was not saved before power-down.

* The cables are connected backwards between the NGRT and the RBM.

* Wrong (or worse) no crypto.

* The feedhorn offset is incorrectly set on the antenna.

* The Smartcard is not inserted or is not being read by the Integrated Receiver Decoder (IRD).

* The SECRET laptop is not plugged into the switch.

* One of the several connections is not correct.

When you have stopped, regrouped, and retried each step multiple times then, and only then, do you stand a chance of calling the Helpdesk and not having them make you feel stupid for not noticing that a decimal was out of place or you swapped the W1 with the W2 cable. Seriously though, when all else fails the GBS Helpdesk is always there, helpful, and extremely knowledgeable on the intricacies of the GBS Suite, and they are more than happy to assist. You can not help but notice as you unpack a GBS for the first time that they plaster the GBS Helpdesk phone number all over the system and the cases, so when all else fails ... call the Helpdesk.

Additional Resources

Norfolk Helpdesk (Comm) (757) 444-9190, (DSN) (312) 564-8993

Hawaii Helpdesk (Comm) (808) 653-5050, (DSN) (315) 453-5050

by Chief Warrant Officer Three Martin Schwerzler

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Martin Schwerzler is currently assigned to 3d MI Center, NGIC in the GEOINT Sustainment Branch as JRTC MTT Chief. His previous assignments include 3d Infantry Division, 101st ABN DIV (AASLT), and V Corps G2 working in various intelligence sections culminating as the Collection and Requirements Manager during OIF 3 and 5 for the 3ID. He instructed at Fort Huachuca, Arizona for the MOS 96H CGS Operators Course. CW3 Schwerzler has an Associates degree from Cochise College and will complete his Bachelor's degree this summer with Excelsior College. He has published numerous articles in this and other professional publications and was named the Writer of the Year for MIPB in 1999. He can be contacted at
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Article Details
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Author:Schwerzler, Martin
Publication:Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin
Article Type:Interview
Date:Jul 1, 2009
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