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MILSATCOM Providing Connectivity Spine

Military Satellite Communications

Military SATCOM continues to provide the spine for connectivity across armed forces although the market is also now witnessing the proliferation of alternative means of communication as defence departments consider how to counter the so-called “Day Without Space”.

Recent uplifts in SATCOM technology have seen the introduction of capabilities for SATCOM On The Move (SOTM), High Altitude Pseudo Satellites (HAPS), and expendable Low Earth Orbit (LEO) nano-satellites although armed forces continue to worry about maintaining communications in an Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2AD) operational theatre which includes a GPS-denied environment.

Such a threat, particularly with the advancement of “Near Peer” adversaries such as Russia and its maturing Electronic Warfare (EW) capability, has therefore resulted in an increasingly popular move towards Mobile Ad Hoc Network (MANET). 4G LTE and High Frequency (HF) communications, all designed to minimise reliance on expensive, high altitude military and commercial SATCOM payloads operating in Geo-stationary Earth Orbit (GEO).

However, reliance on SATCOM continues to dominate the contemporary operating environment with armed forces heavily dependent upon the technology to conduct Beyond Line of Sight (BLoS) voice communications as well as data with ever-increasing requirements placed on ISTAR data.


Busy Market

However, the SATCOM market continues to remain a popular sector worldwide with the forecast being it is a U$41billion sector by the end of the survey period. The need for large amounts of data to be moved from anywhere, to anywhere, on demand, is vast, immediate, and growing. These challenges fuel a powerful change toward a space-based network with the capacity to service the entire globe.

International activity in the SATCOM market has seen significant progress over recent months with the US Navy announcing plans to launch the fifth and final military satellite in its Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) constellation in May 2016.

Developed in collaboration with Lockheed Martin, the MUOS-5 spacecraft is the third payload to be launched within a year and a half with the constellation designed to provide secure and mobile SATCOM for the US Armed Forces. Announcing the project launch on 3 March, company officials proclaimed: “Users with operational MUOS terminals will be able to seamlessly connect BLOS around the world and into the Global Information Grid,” before highlighting capabilities for simultaneous voice, video and data transmissions generated across secure, high speed internet protocol (IP) networks.

Elsewhere, Airbus Defence & Space (DS) announced on 15 March a €145 million contract to supply the German Armed Forces with SATCOM capabilities. Running through to 2022, the deal will see the company operating the COMSATBw-1 and COMSATBw-2 spacecraft, designed to provide the armed forces with UHF, X-, C- and Ku-band coverage.

Additionally, Airbus DS has been contracted by the French Navy to upgrade smaller platforms with high-speed SATCOM connectivity as part of the COMCEPT or Capacity addition in Elongation, Projection and Theatre programme.

The contract was awarded on 7 March by the French DGA and will see a total of 17 small to medium sized vessels equipped with SATCOM capabilities although a further tranche of platforms could be upgraded further down the line, industry sources informed Mönch. Initial upgrades will include patrol and mine-hunting vessels, allowing them to share high data rates across Ku- and C-bands.

Elsewhere, Spain’s MoD has contracted indigenous company Indra to maintain its SECOMSAT military SATCOM network with a €42.8million deal over a three-year period, with potential for additional three-year follow on.

Finally, Thales has delivered an Initial Operating Capability (IOC) for the Qatar Armed Forces’ Military SATCOM solution following a contract award in October 2014 to develop a Ground Control System (GCS). Announced on 25 November 2015 by the company, the GCS will allow force elements to send and receive voice, data and video communications as well as process, exploit and disseminate intelligence feeds to other users. Work is expected to be completed this year, a Thales spokesperson explained to Mönch.


Commercial Providers

Speaking to Mönch at the Satellite Conference in National Harbor, MA/USA on 7 March, industry sources explained how the military market continued to rely upon the provision of SATCOM from the commercial market, designed to reduce costs for defence ministries, departments and agencies. Addressing the conference, CEO of Iridium Communications, Matthew Desch described how the US DoD, in particular, was increasing reliance upon commercial SATCOM providers in order to reduce financial constraints.

Referring to, “shifting sands in demand,” Desch described the launch of Iridium Communications’ latest venture into this space with the introduction of a GPS back-up service for the USAF. Developed in conjunction with Satelles, the system was due to go live in April 2016 as MT went to press. The concept is designed to provide military and other government agency users to receive precise geo-location information inexpensively.

Meanwhile, Inmarsat’s CEO Rupert Pearce described to delegates how the company’s Global Xpress 12-strong satellite constellation continued to support military SATCOM across L-, Ka- and S-bands with a next-generation solution, Inmarsat-6, which is currently in development. 

Meanwhile, military organisations continue to exploit X-band SATCOM capabilities as a lower cost solution which also allows for interoperability with NATO and Non-NATO Entity partners. Addressing delegates at the Mobile Deployable Communications Conference in Warsaw on 5 February, XTAR CEO Philip Harlow described how X-band had, “come of age,” and how best armed forces could exploit it.

According to Harlow, many countries in eastern Europe particularly, require cheaper but reliable solutions as they continue to conduct multi-national and multi-agency training and operations with larger, more mature units from the likes of the US. “Recent years have seen an explosion of systems that demand high bandwidth capabilities for video, voice, and data communications. That trend will continue and accelerate as applications like remote sensing, mobile networking, and airborne ISR depend upon government and commercial satellite systems for increasing bandwidth supplies,” Harlow explained to delegates.


Expeditionary C4ISR

C4ISR are essential elements to military and intelligence operations. GATR Technologies and DTECH Labs, two subsidiaries of Cubic Global Defense, bring this capability to end users where reliable, secure, expeditionary/agile portable communications can be a defining factor for mission success.

GATR is one of the only providers of inflatable SATCOM antenna solutions. GATR’s ultra-portable inflatable antenna technology enables comparable performance to rigid deployable antennas of similar size, but with up to 85% reduction in the logistical size and weight of those systems. This translates to a tremendous operational and affordable advantage for customers across government and commercial industries.

Roy Priest, VP for Sales and Support for GATR Technologies further expounds that, “a single-band 2.4m terminal can pack into two airline checkable cases under 100lbs. each versus 1,200+lbs. and 6-10 cases for conventional rigid 2.4m portable systems. It is easy to set up and enables high-bandwidth communications in areas where other systems are not feasible.”

GATR’s reduced space requirements during transport can allow for other critical gear or personnel to be added, while its reduced weight makes the GATR SATCOM system less expensive to transport or ship. A system can be air dropped to a military unit or transported as commercial baggage, which is a tremendous competitive advantage supporting the effectiveness of expeditionary missions. At the same time, GATR preserves the advantage of larger dishes, such as higher bandwidth, C-band capability, and lower satellite power/cost required to establish a link. The radome’s spherical shape also makes the antenna more aerodynamic and therefore significantly more stable in high winds.

DTECH is a designer, manufacturer and integrator of diverse mission solutions developed to meet the demanding requirements of military, government, first responders and commercial customers around the world in a wide range of environments. These products range from emergency and first-in voice/data mobile communications to complete systems with an emphasis on man portable and airline carry on solutions. Doing this enables the solution to follow the mission wherever it may lead, on the ground, a vehicle or in the air.

DTECH is able to create and support custom systems using specialised gateways to vehicular telematics systems, designed to provide many types of communications and advanced engineering solutions, which enables DTECH to take “out-of-the-box” requirements and use the best available technologies to customize Government off the Shelf (GOTS) or COTS to best suit customer needs. DTECH’s M3 SE System is an ultimate powerhouse in small, secure and man-portable communications systems. A user configurable gateway, the M3-SE leverages the Cisco 5915 ESR and ESS 2020 switch at the core of the system, ensuring full IOS, network tunneling and call manager support.

When these two industry-leading capabilities are combined, you enable successful operational communications by having adaptable systems that can be easily configured to customer needs,” Lawrence Hollister, Senior Director of C4ISR Systems, Cubic Global Defense, said.

Cubic’s solutions are also able to communicate over any available network technology, including IP over satellite, cellular, radio, integrated services digital network (ISDN), and IP broadband/baseband networks.  “Our core focus is designing and integrating man-transportable communication solutions, both expeditionary and agile, that offer a high degree of modularity for redundancy and on-the-fly configuration, as well as integrated power management capabilities for anywhere operations,” Hollister informed.


Cubic GATR (Photo: USMC)


As an example, Poland is seeking exactly such a capability with a next-generation SATCOM capability currently being sought by the country’s MoD announcing a tender for the acquisition of 100 manportable terminals for service with SOF.

Designated the Maly Terminal Satelitarny (MTS) programme, requirements call for a Super HF (SHF) system capable of operating across the 3-30GHz frequency range in Ku-, Ka- and X-bands.

According to XTAR, military organisations are now relying upon X-band SATCOM to secure space-segment capacities for reliable bandwidth requirements.
Set aside for the benefit of the government and military user, X-band offers compelling features that support the most demanding communications requirements,” Harlow explained while highlighting reduced Adjacent Satellite Interference (ASI) associated with satellite payloads operating too close to one another. Additionally, higher power density carriers allow for more optimised utility of small antenna arrays while a more thoroughly spread spectrum of payloads also improves bandwidth efficiency and reduces costs involved.

Harlow also described how X-band SATCOM provided an, “extremely robust,” operation in adverse conditions including rain, sand storms and, “other challenging weather, even when using disadvantaged terminals. X-band allows small terminals to transmit at high-power densities without using spread-spectrum techniques. As a result, X-band users very often use less space segment and therefore incur lower bandwidth costs than users in C-, Ku- and Ka-bands. Reserved exclusively for government users also means there are fewer antennas pointed at the X-band constellation of satellites. Additionally, X-band users operate within the guidelines of their command structure, making for a more disciplined user community.”


Nano Options

Designed to provide a more affordable and expendable SATCOM option for armed forces comprising the deployment of multiple satellites operating at low altitudes in place on a single, larger GEO payload.

Additionally, research has described how more than 5,000 satellites, probes and capsules are expected to be manufactured and launched in LEO, GEO and Deep Space Orbit (DSO) between 2016 and 2035, comprising total expenditure of some $245billion.

The trend in the future market for space payloads continues upward and it is being driven largely by the introduction of hundreds of small, nano- and pico- commercial satellites designed to provide everything from broadband and mobile communications to meteorological, imaging and position location & tracking services,<P>” a spokesperson for Teal Group explained to Mönch.

According to the company’s findings, up to 662 different types of payloads could be launched this year alone with an upward trend seeing 760 different solutions launched in 2017 and then gradual slow down ranging from 652 systems in 2018 down to just 111 in 2025 as spacecraft proliferate across LEO, GEO and DSOs.

Research also reiterated the growing number of commercial payloads in orbit with 1,126 spacecraft described as commercial/government non-military; 602 designated as military; and 331 as belonging to academia and non-profit.

Additionally, LEO comprises more than 80 per cent of total orbits, which also includes GEO, DSO, Medium Earth Orbits (MEO) and elliptical orbits. “It’s going to get extremely crowded at LEO. During the 1990s, the market started launching hundreds of mobile communications satellites to LEO, but that’s nothing compared to the potentially thousands of small LEO broadband satellites aimed at expanding Internet connectivity worldwide,” it was concluded.

Solutions include DARPA and US Air Force CubeSat technology which comprises a nano-satellite with capability to be launched from jet aircraft in order to establish a LEO for the provision of SATCOM, ISTAR and other services, dependent upon payload carried. The programme remains in a test and evaluation phase having first been launched back in 2012. However, more than a dozen CubeSats have already been launched in support of ongoing operations with USSOCOM and other government agencies. According to programme officials, the nano-satellite technology provides a lower cost option for armed forces with added flexibility for modular payload capabilities with so-called RideShare technology allowing a single spacecraft to co-host a variety of sensors.



High Altitude Pseudo Satellites (HAPS)

Finally, HAPS technology could soon provide a workable, cost effective and efficient pseudo-SATCOM capability for armed forces with the continued development of platforms such as Airbus DS’ ZEPHYR aircraft.

The company is currently contracted to the UK’s MoD to manufacture two aircraft for what industry sources explained to MT would comprise a communications relay evaluation programme. In February, the MoD confirmed the deal for the HAPS which is capable of operating at altitudes up to 70,000ft above ground level. the first aircraft is due to be undertakei its first flight in the middle of 2017, MoD sources informed Mönch.

Roke Manor has been contracted to develop a High Altitude Cellular Communications payload for ZEPHYR, which will be used to enable a HAP-SATCOM capability for ground-based users operating in areas of operation with little or no communications infrastructure or in a GPS-denied environment.
However, industry sources associated with the programme informed MT how the payload was not being exclusively designed for the HAPS with other long endurance aircraft being considered for future integration of the payload. The payload is expected to provide ground users with a communications range of 50km with added capability to send and receive high bandwidth full motion video and additional image intelligence (IMINT). A Technology Demonstrator could see its first flight conducted by the start of 2017, it was concluded.

Andrew White



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