A communications satellite is an artificial satellite that relays and amplifies radio telecommunications signals via a transponder; it creates a communication channel between a source transmitter and a receiver at different locations on Earth. The benefit of a satellite communications network lies in its ability to link users to voice, video and data information where other forms of terrestrial networks may not be feasible.
Military communications networks provide for the exchange of voice, video and data between geographically dispersed elements of a battle force. Military satellites are considered as a measure of the country’s military strength, operability, and the ability to attack or defend itself. These satellites give the armies real-time data, pertaining to the movement of troops and regarding the arsenal at enemy borders.
SATCOM uses the frequency range of 3 megahertz (MHz) to 300 gigahertz (GHz). Bandwidth is a range of radio frequencies that is occupied by a modulated carrier wave, which is assigned to a service, or over which a device can operate measured in hertz. In most cases as the bandwidth increases, data rates may also increase.
Software-defined radio architecture, radio-satellite-network integration as well as enabling un-interrupted and secured communications operations down to the tactical edge in a congested and contested spectrum environment will drive spending on military communications systems. Strategy Analytics forecasts spending on global military communications systems and services will grow to over $36.7 billion in 2026, representing a CAGR of 3.5%. Spending on global communications systems and services comprises radio, satellite communications (SATCOM), datalink, network and other communications systems.
Satellite communications (SATCOM) systems (incorporating satellite payloads and satellite terminals) will account for 37.2% in 2026 representing the largest market opportunity in terms of military communications systems, and will be worth $13.7 billion.
Military Satellite Communications
Military satellite communications have typically focused on C-band and X-band operations, but as use of satellite terminals has increased, so these bands have become increasingly capacity constrained and increasingly expensive. Bandwidth demand over the years has increased driven in part by continued growth in intelligence requirements and the expansion of UAS platform usage to incorporate BLOS (beyond line of sight) operations. This has led to the use of systems operating at higher frequencies such as Ku-band and Ka-band.
Each of these frequency bands has advantages and disadvantages for various applications. Satellite transponders operating at the lower C-band frequencies are more robust, especially when it rains (water degrades some RF signals.) Under US law, X-band usage is limited to the US government and NATO. The Ku-band can communicate with smaller antennas and is useful for mobile operations. Ka-band satellites can transmit more data, including high-speed video, than satellites using the other frequencies, but their signals are more susceptible to rain and fog.
Satellite communications are central to the Pentagon’s vision for Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2), which in turn is central to enabling the MDO strategy and allowing linkages across all five domains of warfare (air, land, sea, space and cyber) and integrating all sensors with all shooters.
SATCOM provides survivable communications for Presidential support and nuclear command and control, and affords national and military leaders a means to maintain strategic situational awareness and convey their intent to the Joint Force Commander (JFC). SATCOM relays the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance that allow the JFC to understand the operating environment, and the command and control
to shape the environment and act decisively. At the tactical level, SATCOM provides critical, beyond-line-of-sight connectivity for mobile forces, enables control of remote sensors and remote or in-flight weapons, transmits real-time battlefield intelligence, and ties sensors to shooters.
Military Satellite Communication Requirements
Gaining and maintaining control of the electromagnetic spectrum is a critical requirement for the commander. From satellite communications (SATCOM) to information collection, to electromagnetic warfare, all forces and supporting agencies depend on the electromagnetic spectrum to execute operations in the air, land, maritime, space, and cyberspace domains. For this reason, managing satellite resources requires the consideration of electromagnetic spectrum vulnerabilities. Enemies and adversaries may deliberately attempt to deny the use of the electromagnetic spectrum, in either space-based or terrestrial communications systems. Due to heavy reliance on advanced communications systems, such an attack may be a central element of any enemy or adversary anti-access and area denial strategy, requiring a higher degree of protection for command and control systems and planning for operations in a denied or degraded environment.
On 29 Aug 2019, United States Space Command (USSPACECOM) was established to protect America’s interests in space and to assure access for the full range of military operations. USSF was established on 20 Dec 2019 to develop military space professionals, acquire military space systems, mature the military doctrine for space power, and organize space forces to present to our Combatant Commands. The vision of USSF is to provide an operationally effective, affordable, resilient, and secure satellite communications architecture that supports global mission priorities and is adaptable to rapidly changing requirements, technologies, and threats
Rapid, resilient, sustainable and global access to SATCOM capabilities – The ability for all DoD users to quickly obtain and maintain satellite communications through all operating environments relevant to their mission
Terminal and modem agility – The ability for terminals to operate on a variety of waveforms over varying frequencies, with quick transition or, when possible, simultaneously
Network agility – The ability for users to maintain their networks when transitioning to a different beam, antenna, satellite or system
Cyber, link and operational security- The ability to provide cyber resiliency for warfighters, protecting their information and control systems in the face of a determined and sophisticated attacker
Data interoperability with joint command and control (C2) systems – The ability of warfighters and space enterprise C2 systems to effectively exchange information
Military SATCOM Segments
SATCOM has three segments
Space Segment. The space segment consists of military and commercial satellites and SATCOM payloads in orbit. The space segment includes the military’s Ultrahigh Frequency Follow-On (UFO), Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS), Wideband Global Satellite Communications (WGS), Milstar, Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF), Enhanced Polar System, and commercially leased SATCOM transponders and payloads.
Link Segment. The link segment connects the ground and space segments together through the electromagnetic spectrum. This includes telemetry, tracking, and command signals necessary to control the spacecraft. The link segment includes satellite payload signals such as the SATCOM signal, enabling communication between points on the ground, or the positioning, navigation, and timing signals that enable navigation.
Ground Segment. The ground segment consists of the ground facilities and antennas required to control the satellites and all terminals. The ground segment incorporates the operational management planning hardware and software at a regional satellite communications support center (RSSC) and the satellite command and control centers used to perform satellite, payload, and transmissions control. The Army’s wideband satellite communications operations center (WSOC) and the Navy Space Operations Center are examples of satellite control centers.
SATCOM Terminals: User terminals will be capable of multi-band and multi-waveform operations, whenever possible, to support agile, “path-agnostic” connectivity, reducing vulnerability to interference and jamming
The enterprise’s management and control system must support agile planning, operations and restoral to meet users’ tactically relevant timelines. The system must provide the CFSCC a comprehensive mission management ability to rapidly plan, apportion, monitor, detect, locate, assess and resolve SATCOM issues for users. It serves as the tool to quickly respond to users’ satellite access requests and can dynamically replan and reallocate SATCOM resources.
Dynamically optimize access for users operating in diverse environments. Improve efficiency and user access through centralized, enterprise-wide management and control responsive to warfighters’ operational needs as they dynamically change, and radically reduce the allocation resource process from weeks or months to minutes.
DOD Military SATCOM systems
Military SATCOM is comprised of three separate bands (narrowband, protected, and wideband). Defense Satellite Communications System
DSCS X band satellites operate with a 500 MHz uplink (7.9 GHz–8.4 GHz) and a 500 MHz downlink (7.25 GHz–7.75 GHz) bandwidth. The DSCS was the backbone of the military SATCOM for decades and still supports Soldiers today.
Wideband communications satellites provide DoD with fast and reliable voice, video, and data communications to support critical military operations around the globe. Wideband satellites operate in different radio frequency spectrum bands. DoD typically relies on C, X, Ku, and Ka-bands to provide wideband connectivity, depending on where and how users are operating.
Wideband Global Satellite Communications WGS supports more tactical users in any area of operations than the DSCS. Each WGS satellite
provides more than four times the available X band bandwidth of a single DSCS satellite. With the addition of Ka band capabilities, each WGS satellite provides more than ten times the bandwidth capacity of a single DSCS satellite, which helps the current congested environment. With higher power output, the WGS communications payload can support greater numbers of disadvantaged and tactical users. This additional power supports greater use of smaller tactical satellite terminals with higher data rates than possible over the DSCS constellation. WGS satellites support cross-banding of X and Ka bands. What this means to the user is that any DSCS X band terminal can communicate with the newer Ka band terminals without equipment upgrades.
Each WGS satellite has eight steerable and shapeable X band beams that give precise coverage over theaters, shipping lanes, and other broad areas of coverage. Each WGS satellite has ten steerable Ka band dish antennas that provide coverage to areas about 580 miles in diameter anywhere in the satellite’s coverage area.
Protected satellite communications (SatComs) exhibit specific characteristics such as security, intelligence, anti-jamming, and nuclear disaster survivability.
The joint Milstar and AEHF constellations are protected SATCOM resources. These satellite constellations provide highly secure and jam-resistant communications at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. The satellites allow for low data rate, medium data rate, and extended data rate operation in the EHF and SHF bands.
The AEHF satellite system is a joint SATCOM system that provides global, secure, protected, jamresistant communications. AEHF users can operate at data rates ranging from 75 bps–8 megabits per second (Mbps) over the AEHF payload; this encompasses the capabilities of both the low data rate and medium data rate payloads on Milstar block II satellites. The cryptographic design of the AEHF satellites allows secure
separation of U.S. users and multinational mission partners.
Narrowband SATCOM supports worldwide tactical communications, including en route contingency communications, in-theater communications, intelligence broadcast, and range extension for combat net radios. Narrowband SATCOM radios connect tactical operations centers across echelons and support longrange surveillance units and Army special operations forces units separated from the main forces. Using small, portable SATCOM terminals for beyond line of sight communications reduces the probability of detection in a contested environment. Narrowband systems operate in the 300 MHz–3 GHz UHF range and include military UHF and commercial L and S radio frequency bands. Narrowband SATCOM is ideal for highly mobile small tactical terminals such as manpack and handheld devices.
Mobile Satellite Communications
Mobile satellite service (MSS) is the term used to describe telecommunication services delivered by the satellites directly to mobile users on ships, vehicles, and airplanes or directly to handheld terminal carried by an individual. MUOS is the DoD’s next-generation satellite communications (SATCOM) system, designed to provide voice and data communications for U.S. forces anytime, anywhere.
MUOS is the next-generation military Ultra High Frequency (UHF) Satellite Communication (SATCOM) system offering 10 times more capacity than the current UHF Follow-On (UFO) system. The Mobile User Objective System (MOUS), a Lockheed Martin-built ultra-high-frequency (UHF) satcom programme, consists of five geosynchronous earth orbit (GEO) satellites connected to four ground stations via fibre-optic network. Users with new MUOS terminals will be able to connect BLOS around the world and into the Global Information Grid (GIG), as well as into the Defense Switched Network, according to Lockheed Martin.
MUOS capabilities include simultaneous voice, video, and mission data to the ground, naval, and air tactical warfighters on-the-move over a secure high-speed Internet Protocol (IP)-based system. It shall provide improved connectivity in difficult terrain conditions, including Urban, Canyon, Mountain, Jungle, and Urban. It will also provide support to disaster relief and humanitarian efforts around the globe. The network provides near-global coverage, including communications into polar regions. MUOS also has demonstrated successful communication of Integrated Broadcast Service (IBS) messages to in-flight test aircraft.’
The advantages and disadvantages of this form of communication are highly dependent on the satellite and network configuration. Satellite communications networks consist of user terminals, satellites and a ground network that provides control and interface functions. Today, satellite networks are providing affordable high-speed broadband services to millions of users around the globe. Users are connected over satellite channels directly utilizing very small aperture terminals (VSATs), or by hybrid architecture, whereby VSATs provide a satellite backhaul of terrestrial wireless services delivered over cellular/WiFi devices.
Military Satellite Communication Trends
Today, a single 28 GHz band satellite can serve 1/3 of the Earth. The wide coverage provides all communities within a satellite’s footprint access to service. Coupled with easy to deploy user terminals, this means that consumers and businesses have near-instant access to fast, affordable broadband, anywhere. Both the commercial and military satellite communication industry is evolving, as evidenced by numerous trends that one can expect to see on the horizon over the coming 18 months and beyond. The increase in small satellites, the use of high-throughput satellites and low-Earth orbiting (LEO) satellites, launches on reusable rocket launch vehicles, satellites with all-electric propulsion and new use cases for 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) are some of the are among the game-changing innovations enabling a range of solutions from digital financial services to better health care to smarter cities.
Trends driving spending on the military communications sector will be underpinned by software defined radio, satellite connectivity and network-centric IP-based communications. Communications are no longer confined to voice transmission, but are focused on IP-centric delivery of data in a wide range of formats including video, imagery, messaging with the delivery of voice now also moving into the IP-based domain. Requirements for higher data rates with a focus on IP-centric communications that encompass video and data as well as voice will push demand for military satellite terminal systems. Communicating securely faster over multiple channels and wider spectrum in an increasingly complex spectrum environment will underpin the current and future trends for system design architectures which will dictate the underlying changes in component technology demand.
Military Satellite Communication Market
The satellite communication market in the defense sector is quite diverse and complex, and is heavily influenced by technological changes, regulations, and investment decisions of both government and private sector. Common maritime satellite communication services include voice calling and internet access for oceanic weather, navigation, and fishing. In addition, the demand for military communication systems is also constantly on the rise for disaster relief activities, in order to deliver a quick response.
The satellite communication market in the defense sector is expected to register a CAGR of over 6.90%, during the forecast period (2021 – 2026). With its penetration in military operations, IoT is significantly impacting military intelligence, operations, and surveillance.
Furthermore, technological advancements in miniaturization, connected technology, robust network environment, low power computing, radio frequency identification, and M2M communication are also expected to fuel the satellite communication market in the defense sector.
Artificial intelligence is becoming a part of modern warfare. Implementation of AI in satellite communication is expected to be a major trend in the coming decade. Furthermore, the governments of various countries are investing in communication technology, such as navigation systems, vessel tracking, etc., in the maritime sector.
China and India are largely responsible for the rapid growth of the satellite communication market in the defense sector in the Asia-Pacific region.
The satellite communication market in the defense sector is fragmented and competitive in nature. Some of the key players in the satellite communication market in the defense sector are Baker Hughes Incorporated, Globecomm Systems, Inmarsat Communications, and Iridium Communications Inc. among others.
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