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Giant golf ball
Radio frequencies technician Airmen from the 6th Communications Squadron on MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., maintain the only contiguous U.S. step-side satellite May 30, 2013. The AN/GSC-39 Satellite Communications Terminal has been in use on MacDill since August 1989. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Michael Ellis/Released)
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The secrets of the giant golf ball

Posted 6/21/2013   Updated 6/21/2013 Email story   Print story


by Capt. Christopher Wiley
6th Communications Squadron

6/21/2013 - MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Usually on the running path down to SeaScapes, on the beach, people see the giant white golf ball on the southern end of base and ponder its purpose.

Is it the reason that cell phones continue dropping calls? Do they get free cable TV? Are they communicating with aliens? The answer to these provocative questions is no. So what does the golf ball really do? Who operates it? Why do they operate it and why does it matter?

In technical terms, the golf ball is actually an AN/GSC-39 Satellite Antenna. It was commissioned into service in March 1981 and activated on MacDill Air Force Base in August 1989. The fine professionals in the Long-Haul Infrastructure Flight of the 6th Communications Squadron operate it. There are about 40 radio frequency transmission experts that drive the satellite communications mission year-round. In addition, just fewer than 20 technical control facility Airmen help provide the connectivity between the golf ball and the rest of the critical services.

So why does this matter? The primary mission of the golf ball is to provide secure and non-secure connectivity between the 6th Air Mobility Wing, U.S. Central Command, U.S. Special Operations Command, Defense Information Systems Agency, joint task force commanders and subordinates downrange, and all of the other mission partners here at MacDill. On average, the golf ball provides about 5,000 hours of service, supporting 20 missions downrange per year. In addition to this, there is unquestionably some Facebook and YouTube surfing downrange for morale purposes.

In addition to the recent consolidated unit inspection rating of "Excellent," the facilities tied to this satellite communications mission are some of the very best in the Department of Defense. According to DISA, who rates these things, we compete as three separate facilities (earth terminal, tech control facility, and standardized tactical entry point). The earth terminal was number one in the Air Mobility Command. The tech control and the standardized tactical entry point were number one in the entire Air Force and number two in the DOD.
What's next for the golf ball? Unfortunately, its 1980s technology can't quite keep pace with the dynamic mission of the current DOD. Thankfully, due to the award-winning professionals and the phenomenal location, the Air Force has decided to invest more than $7 million to upgrade the golf ball. Beginning in summer 2015, DISA will break ground on a new modern enterprise terminal. The new terminal will be able to communicate with the new $3.5 billion Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) satellite constellation, handle a ridiculous 2.1 Gbps of bandwidth, and provide that critical data to a larger area of responsibility.

Next time that you're driving or running by and see that large golf ball on the horizon, you can feel safe knowing that some of our deployed brethren, conducting operations and occasionally surfing YouTube, do not affect your cell phone coverage.

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