Military and Satcom experts analyse the current demands for bandwidth and explore the possibilities of working together to support global mission critical operations.
Lt. Col Holger Lüschow of the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Germany, revealed at the Global Milsatcom conference that concluded in London recently, that the first deployment of Satcom by the German forces started with a few deployable ground stations and some leased capabilities during the 1993 Somalia mission. In the 1996 Balkans mission, there was an increase in ground stations with a military anchor station in Germany and there was an advanced ability in terms of network management and control.
“Satellites are an integral part of global military networks everywhere. Addressing the critical criteria of scalability, adaptability, security and mobility, satellite technology is interoperable leveraging IP-based platforms across defence and civil security forces” – Dave Bettinger, CTO and Senior VP of Engineering, iDirect
Talking about the current status and capabilities, the German MoD has two own military satellites with long-term leased commercial satellite capacity. Underlining the advanced state-of-the-ground segment with more than 500 deployable ground stations for C-, Ku- and X-bands, Luschow stated that the MOD has a mix of several ground stations for flexible connectivity, with dynamic, fully-meshed networks and improved network management technologies. The MoD is looking at hosted payloads in the future and the use of new and innovative technologies (e. g. Ka-band, multi-carrier modems) to prepare systems for future needs, among other areas.
Access to space dimension essential
The concerted attempt to broaden and modernise the Satcom capabilities of the armed forces is clearly underlined in the Military Strategic Vision outlined by the Netherland’s Chief Of Defence Staff in March 2010 that stated: “The traditional dimensions of sea, land and air are extended with the dimensions of information and space. The dependency on space-based assets requires an assured access to that dimension. An ownership of space capacity is yet unaffordable, but is to be realised through partnerships. The use and access to the space dimension is essential for our operations.”
Among the emerging user requirements in the military vertical, the big takeaway is that current operations have resulted in a much higher demand for Ultra High Frequency (UHF) than anticipated. Military experts also believe there has been a significant increase in the use of Super High Frequency (SHF). And critically despite the operation size, rich information is demanded at all levels of command with the need for information superiority agnostic to operation size.
Commercial MilSatCom meeting MoD requirements
Dave Bettinger, IDirect’s CTO and senior VP of engineering, believes that advances In MilSatCom is meeting new MoD requirements.
“Mobile satellite values align with MilSatCom in terms of global coverage, the use of small terminals and the elements of high security and global roaming – both enabled by satellite-based technologies” – Peter Hadinger, President, Inmarsat Government Services
“Satellites are an integral part of global military networks everywhere. Addressing the critical criteria of scalability, adaptability, security and mobility, satellite technology is interoperable leveraging IP-based platforms across defence and civil security forces.” Satellite, he believes, is a key enabler matched by a vertical that strives for reduced cost. The army currently wants, “increased capability and complexity. There is a paradigm shift in terms of technology driven by the ‘iPhone, Smart Phone’ approach with wanting more for less”.
Speaking from the MSS perspective, Peter Hadinger, President, Inmarsat Government Services, states that mobile satellite values align with MilSatCom in terms of “global coverage, the use of small terminals and the elements of high security and global roaming – both enabled by satellite-based technologies”.
Industry observers believe that the global political situation reversed after 9/11. MilSatCom couldn’t keep up with surge in information demands. Commercial Satcom had bet against terrestrial (and lost) with excess supply.
“In a moment of serendipity, commercial [Satcom] became dominant,” says Hadinger of Inmarsat.
With global mobility and very few market substititues, and the potential of Ka for high-bandwidth global mobility with data-efficient spot-beam technology and small terminals, militaries, Hadinger says, should leverage the advantages of the MSS sector.
Along with global mobility, the satellite industry has demonstrated fundamental long-term durability in the broadcast sector with very high economies of scale.
The upcoming Global Xpress capacity, according to Hadinger can work with a military platform without any change of hardware. The first Global Xpress satellite that uses both the civil and military Ka-bands, is scheduled for launch in the summer of 2013, with two others to follow at six-month intervals.
As reported in the trade press, Inmarsat has consulted with U.S. defence authorities from the start on Global Xpress, in terms of maximising synergy with Wideband Global Satcom (WGS).
Collaborations between MoD and commercial Satcom
One of the oft cited examples of collaboration between commercial Satcom and governments is the Skynet 5 military communications system owned and operated by Astrium Services since 2007 for the UK Ministry of Defence through a Private Finance Initiative (PFI). The seventh Ariane 5 mission of 2012 carried the British military communications satellite Skynet 5D recently. Skynet 5D will join the existing three Skynet 5 satellites.
“The Satcom system must be able to support data rates of at least 10 Mbps from the aircraft to the ground via satellite. Moreover multiple aircraft must be supported simultaneously and the system should be able to support data rates of at least 2 Mbps from the ground back to the aircraft” -Koen Williams, Strategic Marketing Director, Government and IP Trunking, Newtec
Another prime example of collaboration between governments is the U.S. military’s Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) constellation of X- and Ka-band satellites. While four WGS satellites are in operation in geostationary orbit, aided by two international partnerships with Australia and the other with Canada, Denmark, New Zealand, Luxembourg and the Netherlands — the US Air Force has reportedly ordered six more spacecraft from manufacturer, Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of El Segundo, California.
These satellites are scheduled to be launched between 2013 and 2018. As reported in the trade press, the five nations will benefit from a 25% reduction in the cost of their participation because the US Air Force was able to negotiate a better price from Boeing for the ninth WGS spacecraft, whose construction these nations are financing.
Technology keeping pace with ISR operations
Keeping in step with nations’ concerns to keep military budgets within limits, is technology that makes the most of the existing capacity.
Koen Williams, Strategic Marketing Director, Government and IP Trunking, Newtec, believes technology has enabled increased efficiency for beyond line-of-sight Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) operations.
The current trends and challenges for airborne operations include, according to Williams, “Smaller-scale missions, a critical need for detailed information and service continuation despite the weather and other mitigating factors. Coupled with budget cuts and the need for growing bitrates, there is a need for technology that can efficiently enable ISR operations.”
Among the airborne ISR best practices, Williams includes: “Efficient throughput, optimal availability and improvements beyond DVB-S2.”
Williams elaborates on the challenges in airborne operations with missions calling for “small airframes with high data rate requirements where aircraft are data producers, not data consumers. In addition, there is small amount of rack space and weight available to accommodate electronics and antenna. The challenges are heightened with the need for a rapid deployment timeline – compressed amount of time available for development, integration, testing and certification requirements for operational use.”
According to Williams, the functional requirements of the system are rigorous. “The Satcom system must be able to support data rates of at least 10 Mbps from the aircraft to the ground via satellite. Moreover multiple aircraft must be supported simultaneously and the system should be able to support data rates of at least 2 Mbps from the ground back to the aircraft. Importantly, all data interfaces must be compatible with Internet Protocol and all Intermediate Frequency (IF) interfaces must be commercial L-band with external hardware (antenna, radome) capable of being fitted on multiple types of aircraft. Lastly, operator interface must be simple enough to be operated by personnel who are not satellite experts.”
Alive to the growing needs of the military across the globe, commercial satellite fleet operator Intelsat is building a new brand of high-throughput Ku- and C-band satellites, called Epic, that will reportedly deliver up to three times the bandwidth of WGS.
The much touted O3b Networks, which is supported by fleet operator SES, plans to start launching its constellation of medium Earth orbit Ka-band satellites next year.
Interoperability is a critical requirement and intelligent platform advances, as per experts, include seamless integration into IP networks, support of standard protocols and integration with other HTS-band systems
Speaking to the press, O3b Chief Executive Steve Collar stated that the O3b satellites are designed to cover the globe between 45 degrees north and 45 degrees south, and can offer 350 megabits per second to a given vessel or carrier group.
The potential of HTS with intelligent platforms
Experts concur that High Throughput Satellites (HTS) coupled with Intelligent Platforms will open unprecedented potential for explosive growth.
Elaborating on the HTS Impact on global capacity, Bettinger of iDirect says, “Capacity will triple by 2020. HTS will cater to maritime and fixed VSAT sectors closely followed by the military, aeronautical sector and UAVs. HTS will bring higher performance, higher data rates, higher bandwidth at lower costs and ease of use with smaller terminals.”
Among the Intelligent Platform advantages, according to industry experts such as Bettinger, are scalability/ adaptability with access to X, C, Ku, Ka-bands from one platform, adaptive features that will overcome rain fade, military grade security and encryption, mobility, global connectivity with equipment optimised for size, weight and power and seamless integration into man portable, among other factors.
The mobility features include providing seamless connectivity while on the move, portable, light-weight, power-efficient terminals for fast field deployment, integrated boards for integration into customised terminal solutions, spread spectrum for support of flat panel antennas, seamless automatic beam switching and high speed COTM features like doppler compensation, blockage mitigation, and skew angle support.
Interoperability is a critical requirement and intelligent platform advances, as per experts, include seamless integration into IP networks, support of standard protocols and integration with other HTS-band systems.
Global trends include the need for larger throughput, flexibility and protection, full IP and multi-support services and mobility in all dimensions (air, land, navy and UAV)
Bettinger believes that intelligent IP platforms enable adaptability and operational scalability with the rich feature set delivering a secure, high quality experience, in addition to new portability and mobility advances for SWAP and seamless connectivity and interoperability.
Initiatives by the MoDs
Underlining the undisputed importance of Satcom for modern militaries, Col Arm Christophe Debaert, Head of Syracuse III programme and Milsatcom, Direction Générale de l’Armement, Ministry of Defence, France, stated at the Global Milsatcom conference: “Satcom is an essential component for information superiority and autonomy of French forces, and should take into account the increase in information exchanges for military operations and the need to adapt to new threats. Moreover, while implementing new systems, legacy systems should be taken into account.”
While the commercial satellite industry and governments have worked on hosted payloads and other cost-effective approaches, militaries are not shying away from cooperating with other militaries with resource pooling and development sharing, while keeping compatibility with existing user ground segments in focus.
“Global trends include the need for larger throughput, flexibility and protection, full IP and multi-support services and mobility in all dimensions (air, land, navy and UAV),” stated one military official.
The French military is currently cooperating with Italy with Athena Fidus that will launch by end of 2013 and SICRAL 2 that is slated to be launched in 2014. The SICRAL 2 space segment, with a lifetime of 15 years, will be composed of one UHF payload (15 channels), one French SHF payload, one Italian SHF payload (five transponders), including back up for NATO traffic.
The general belief among military circles is that that there is never enough Satcom, but not all perceived constraints are real constraints. It has to be carefully managed to meet the defence sector’s priorities
The general belief among military circles is that that there is never enough Satcom, but not all perceived constraints are real constraints. It has to be carefully managed to meet the defence sector’s priorities. When it comes to Satcom, ownership is nothing, it seems, going by the active collaborations with commercial Satcom. Capability, however, is everything. Taking that sentiment forward is Lieutenant Colonel Gareth Smith, a UK Army Royal Signals officer with 32 years experience of military communications as both a user and provider. He stated that the Satcom service in question should deliver in terms of the required range, quantity and reliability.
“Along with assurance of availability, the question users ask is whether the service is responsive and accountable.”
To match higher user expectations, suppliers need to be flexible and responsive. While there are more requests for tactical Satcom and small scale terminal capability, suppliers should respond with improved use of UHF resources including spectrum usage and more efficiency should be demonstrated in transponder use and equipment provision. The improved relationship and trust between the customer and supplier has driven the continued emphasis on solutions rather than on bare requirements.
While the military personnel present at the conference conceded that procurement was far from instant, it was much quicker now than in the past when it would take more than six years to procure a Satcom terminal.
Advantages of the private finance initiative (PFI)
As users, we have enjoyed flexibility with a choice of capabilities and services. The contractor is more responsive and quicker than any traditional procurement channels
Highlighting the impact of the Satcom PFI, Lieutenant Colonel Gareth Smith, stated: “As users, we have enjoyed flexibility with a choice of capabilities and services. The contractor is more responsive and quicker than any traditional procurement channels. More significantly, the suppliers delivers against specific real-time situations and as users, we pay for what we use. The services are managed with the commercial staff scrutinising value for money and the contractor pays ‘credits’ for poor performance. In addition a number of non-core services have been made available.”
The industry can help, according to the Lieutenant Colonel Gareth Smith, with continued engagement with the MoD.
“Keep the MoD updated with potential solutions/technological advances and understand the DCNS’ approach and how the industry can play into it. While the future landscape is fluid, there is a need to optimise use of existing networks, exploit emerging technologies, challenge traditional assumptions and engage continually with the Satcom industry.”