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MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial system pilots at Ali AFB (Iraq) can now talk over a secure Internet phone line using their headsets thanks to one Airman’s ingenuity and one dollar.
Staff Sgt. Ray Stetler, the NCO in charge of base information and infrastructure for the 407th Expeditionary Communications Squadron at the base, received a 2 a.m. phone call that led him to make the modification, which grants pilots access to Voice Over Secure Internet Protocol.
The sergeant said the 407th ECS help desk thought he could fill the request because of his reputation for fixing things. After they called, he went out to the Predator site and contacted the person who called in the work request.
“All he told me was that (higher headquarters) wanted to be connected to the pilot for a mission the next day, and he called the communications squadron because he couldn’t think of anyone else to call,” said Sergeant Stetler, noting that he’d never worked with secure radios or VOSIP phones before that night.
After contemplating for a few minutes how he was going to make the modification, he went to work. With five hours, a soldering iron and two meters of cable — total cost, $1 — the NCO completed his impromptu invention.
“I terminated a network connection cable inside the headset coming from the wire harness and connected it to the conference call terminations on the circuit board inside a VOSIP phone,” said the 31-year-old from Phoenix.
Predator operators can plug the modified headset into the radio system and make a call to the Combined Air and Space Operations Center or anyone else using VOSIP, said the sergeant, who is deployed from the 31st Combat Communications Squadron at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla.
Previously, pilots used an instant messaging system to talk with higher headquarters. Using VOSIP to conduct a mission increased productivity by 50 percent, said Capt. Trey Teasley, a Predator pilot with Detachment 1, 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance and Attack Squadron here. Captain Teasley conducted one of the first missions with the modified headset.
“Now, we don’t need to get on our keyboard to type our request or take our eyes off the screen,” he said. “We can just talk (to the CAOC) to receive clearance authority to engage a target or get other updates instead.”
By using VOSIP, pilots can tap into the same resources that are available at their home units and the CAOC, said the captain, who is deployed from the 11th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron at Creech Air Force Base, Nev.
“With the phone, (people at the CAOC) are able to call us and use all the (communications) capabilities available there to feed us real-time support through the headset,” Captain Teasley said.
Looking back, Sergeant Stetler said he just did what he could to close a trouble ticket, but now realizes his invention improved the way Predator pilots do business. It was his simple fix that caught the attention of Lt. Gen. Gary North, U.S. Air Forces Central and 9th Air Force commander.
“I never would have thought that a three-star general would know what I did, much less think so highly of it,” Sergeant Stetler said.
General North, who visited Ali Base in July, urged the 11-year Air Force veteran to share his creation with others. Upon the general’s recommendation, Sergeant Stetler immediately submitted his design to the Air Force’s Innovative Development through Employee Awareness Program. If the Air Force adopts his idea, Sergeant Stetler could receive an award of up to $10,000 — not a bad return for a $1 investment.
Tags: Communications Security, ComSec, Iraq, MQ-1, Predator, Secure Communications, UAS, UAV, UCAS, UCAV, Unmanned Aerial Combat System, Unmanned Aerial Combat Vehicle, Unmanned Aerial System, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, VOIP