Army employs COTS gear for field telemaintenance

TOBYHANNA, Pa. - Engineers at the High Tech Regional Training Center at Tobyhanna Amy Depot in Tobyhanna, Pa., and the Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) in Fort Monmouth, N.J., are using a commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) telemaintenance system to repair communications equipment in the field.

Jul 1st, 1998

By John McHale

TOBYHANNA, Pa. - Engineers at the High Tech Regional Training Center at Tobyhanna Amy Depot in Tobyhanna, Pa., and the Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) in Fort Monmouth, N.J., are using a commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) telemaintenance system to repair communications equipment in the field.

"Telemaintenance involves the use of computers and video to allow technicians in the field access to technical support via telephone lines or satellites," explains Phil Merkel, a CECOM logistics assistance representative. "If a weapons system is broken in the field and the repair technicians are not familiar with it they can set up a video link to a service center anywhere in the world."

The telemaintenance system is made up of a small video camera and a modem with external probes for testing electronics, say CECOM officials. Users can configure this system to use transmission media such as a conventional telephone lines, ISDN lines, or satellite links.

CECOM officials refused to comment on the technical specifications of the electronics.

Once technicians in the field establish a link with a service center, they can send video of faulty circuit cards or other equipment, and specialists at the service center use the schematics to tell the technicians how to troubleshoot the card, Merkel explains.

The technicians use probes such as voltage meters to send data that tells the service center technicians where to make adjustments to restore the system to the correct specifications.

"Our scenario was to simulate an inoperable circuit switch in the field at Tobyhanna and to connect via satellite to CECOM to receive help," says John Boswell of the CECOM Logistics Assistance Division. "CECOM served as the service center and instructed how to troubleshoot and repair the switch."

Adds Merkel: "We basically proved the concept is viable; we can transmit video and voice in real time to repair electronics."

CECOM officials caution that the project is in its infancy, as their officials are still testing methods that they expect eventually will get the system down to PC size.

Once CECOM leaders determine the configuration of a final system, they will distribute it to service centers such as Tobyhanna. "The system will reduce the number of emergency repair teams deployed to field locations," Boswell says. "We will have a means to make repairs in hours instead of days."

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