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. Satellite communications networks servicing large number of users comrise of user terminals, satellites and a ground network that provides control and interface functions. Military satellite communications networks provide for the exchange of voice, video and data between geographically dispersed elements of a battle force, where other forms of terrestrial networks may not be feasible.
In today’s warfighting environment, the need for information is critical and satellites provide warfighters with beyond line-of-sight communications, allowing small units of special operators performing missions in isolated locations to maintain contact with each other and with headquarters. Military satellites are a measure of the nation’s military strength, operability, and the ability to attack or defend itself. These satellites give the military real-time data of movement of troops and arsenal in the enemy borders. They also facilitate high-bandwidth communication over secure channels, track and target enemy encroachment or intruding vehicles, and other military functions.
The requirement of satellite capacity is increasing with increase in global communications, video conferencing, drone live streaming and other activities that consume lots of bandwidth. Globally, the trend in the utilization of military satellites is to provide more interoperable, high data rate, network-centric communications, a requirement driven by the bandwidth of current operations and the projected bandwidth of future conflicts. For example, in Desert Storm, 542,000 troops occupied nearly 100 megabytes per second of MILSATCOM bandwidth whereas at the height of Operation Iraqi Freedom, 350,000 troops consumed 3.2 gigabytes per second of bandwidth – a thirty-fold increase in the space of a decade. The demand for spectrum is also increasing due large increase in number of UAVs for ISR missions resulting in large increase in data transmission requirements through BLOS datalinks.
One of the strategy US is considering is augmenting capacity through commercial satellites. There are “opportunities to expand the use of commercial” communications satellites, said Norman Yarbrough, one of the Pentagon officials overseeing the congressionally mandated study. Major operators that supply satellite bandwidth to the military include ViaSat, Inmarsat, Intelsat, SES and EchoStar. The military also uses its own Wideband Global SATCOM satellites, known as WGS.
Pentagon identified a huge hurdle that could slow down future efforts to buy commercial satcom: most military terminals that give users access to satellites are not compatible with modern satcom technology. Because of the cost and the complexity of upgrading military equipment, it could take decades to update or replace all 17,000 wideband satcom terminals currently in the Defense Department’s inventory. “It’s not just about space, it’s about the terminals,” Yarbrough told the 2018 MilSatCom conference in Arlington, Virginia.
Despite advances in satellite technology, many of the U.S. military’s most expensive and necessary assets remain vulnerable to threats like jamming from countries like Russia and China who have developed sophiticated electronic warfare systems. The technology needed to jam many types of satellite signals is commercially available and relatively inexpensive and can be used by countries like Iran and North Korea, so-called rogue states to interfere with satellite communications and GPS signals. Satellites are also vulnerable to other electronic threats such as spoofing, which attempts to trick receivers into believing manipulated data from an attacker is real, also offer low cost options to adversaries who hope to interfere with satellite connectivity. These kinds of attacks can disrupt communications or position, navigation and timing techniques.
The rising threat of electronic and cyber warfare is driving demand of hardening the military satellite communications equipment against electronic warfare and cyber threats. The Air Force’s Advanced Energy High Frequency satellites, reserved for secure communication, incorporate a high degree of protection against jamming, spoofing, and other forms of electronic attack.
Highly secure, anti-jamming, survivable Satellite communication
US DOD has launched the Advanced Extremely High Frequency, Milstar and Defense Satellite Communications System III programs. The programs represent three generations of satellite constellations designed to provide highly secure, anti-jamming, survivable communication for the military.
The full DSCS III constellation was launched in increments, with the first being launched in 1982. DSCS III satellites provide nuclear-hardened, anti-jam communications to users around the globe via wideband signals. Consisting of five satellites, the Milstar constellation was launched between 1994 and 2003 to provide highly secure, survivable communications for military leadership. AEHF is a follow-on to the Milstar satellites, with just one AEHF satellite providing three times more capacity than the entire legacy system. The first AEHF satellite was launched in 2010, while the fifth of six planned AEHF satellites was launched in August.
US Air Force Protected Tactical Waveform (PTW) for anti-jam satellite communications
In response, the Air Force plans to deploy a Protected Tactical Waveform (PTW), a next-generation capability connecting warfighters with more agile and jam-resistant satellite communications (SATCOM). The whole system will comprise of constellation of dedicated geostationary satellites, commercially hosted payloads, and coalition partner satellites integrated through a ground control network to provide U.S. and coalition forces protected communications .
The U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) at Los Angeles Air Force Base awarded Lockheed Martin a $240 million contract to develop a prototype payload for its new Protected Tactical SATCOM (PTS) system. SMC’s acquisition begins with a rapid prototyping phase for a new mission payload hosting the Protected Tactical Waveform (PTW). According to the company, the fully-processed payloads should ensure adaptive, anti-jamming communications channels are available to allied forces in a contested environment.
The central piece of the cyber security upgrade is anti-jam communications software — called the Protected Tactical Waveform (PTW). A ground system, the Protected Tactical Enterprise Service (PTES) will manage the transmission of the waveform over WGS satellites and terminals. Boeing, which manufactures the WGS satellites, was awarded a seven-year, $383 million contract in November to develop the PTES. “We are doing agile software development to enable early use of the PTW capability,” said Mckenzie.
The U.S. Air Force has selected L3Harris Technologies (NYSE:LHX) to deliver the space hub end cryptographic unit (ECU) for the Protected Tactical SATCOM (PTS) SHIELD program. As the SHIELD contractor, L3Harris will develop an NSA-certified, space-flight qualified, production-ready ECU for future PTS payloads. The L3Harris ECUs will support 13 space-based communications payload hubs that will serve up to 1,800 simultaneous tactical user terminals. L3Harris’ Modular Open System Architecture (MOSA) approach employs standards-based interfaces that minimize the information security boundary and simplify integration for the multiple payload providers. The ECU incorporates L3Harris’ HMV™ Space Cryptographic processor that supports full on-orbit reprogrammability in a low-power, highly extensible design. The MOSA form factor and innovative technical approach also results in a low SWaP solution for substantial cost savings due to reduced payload weight and hardware costs.
First in line for these upgrades are the Navy’s aircraft carrier strike groups in the Pacific, Mckenzie said. The Air Force will have this technology available for carrier strike groups in 2022, about 18 months sooner than previously planned. The anti-jam software and ground system only will work initially with WGS networks, said Mckenzie. If a commercial provider opted to use the PTW waveform, the ground system could be updated to interoperate with that vendor’s network. Military satcom users will need to upgrade their satellite terminals with new modems to operate the PTW waveform. The Air Force two years ago awarded three contracts — $39 million to Raytheon, $38 million to L3 and $33 million to Viasat — to develop prototype modems. The Army, Navy and Air Force will run separate competitions to decide which modems they will acquire for their specific terminals. For carrier strike groups, the Navy will have to buy PTW-capable modems to upgrade its satellite terminals aboard ships.
In the long term, the plan is to add a new space component — either newly designed spacecraft or military communications payloads hosted on commercial buses. “Our goal is to have some protected tactical satcom prototype payloads on orbit in the fiscal year 2025 time frame,” said Mckenzie. Whatever new hardware makes up the space segment, it will be compatible with the PTES ground equipment, he said. Mckenzie noted that the Air Force has been criticized for deploying satellites before the ground equipment is available. The PTW and PTES efforts reverse that trend.
Move towards Ka band Satellite Communications for Global broadband communications
Millimeter-wave frequencies at Ka-band started to underpin usage providing another avenue to meet the demand for military satellite connectivity, bringing a number of benefits including: Higher upload and download data rates, Better spectral efficiencies, Less congestion in the spectrum band and Lower bandwidth costs for the user. The move to Ka band alo offere some security from Jamming as current communications jamming and COMINT/DF requirements typically not extending beyond S-band, while radar jammers could be required to go as high as Ka-band if designed to disable missile threats that featured radar seekers.
In 2014-2015, Strategy Analytics estimated that traditional frequency bands (UHF, L-band, C-band, X-band and Ku-band) accounted for 77% of military satellite terminal communications across the land, air and sea domains. Now scarcity of available frequency spectrum at traditional bands, rising demand of broadband satellite communications is driving the trend for using millimeter wave band particularly Ka band. This band also less congested, can provide higher data rates and Lower bandwidth costs for the user.
This focus on millimetre-wave frequencies is predicted to increase over the next ten years with Ka-band forecast to account for almost 30% of the military satellite communications by 2024. US Department of Defense’s (DoDs) has deployed Wideband Global Satellite (WGS), the highest capacity communications satellites providing a new two-way Ka-band service, and 39 125-MHz Channels via a digital channelizer/router, with 2.1 gigabytes per second capacity. A number of technology advances have enabled these increases in bandwidth.
For example, communications satellites are being deployed with phased array antennas which can be electronically scanned over their search volume very quickly; all the elements in the array may be used in conjunction to produce a very narrow, high-resolution beam, or a broader, lower resolution beam. In addition, the array elements can be driven in smaller groups to produce multiple beams.
A second type of electronically scanned array is the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA). In this system, each element is driven by a transmit/receive module, which contains discrete components, thermal management technology and several monolithic microwave integrated-circuits (MMICs) feeding a beam-forming network that feeds a radiating element. As the technology develops, more functionality will be incorporated into the MMICs and the number of MMICs will decrease.
For wideband communications, the Pentagon expects to rely primarily on four frequency bands: Ka, Ku, C and X. The Air Force is spending $10 million to develop a “flexible modem interface” that would connect existing terminals to commercial networks and military satellites. The modem upgrade, if successful, would provide seamless multi-band connectivity like a cellphone service.
Move for Mobility
The Navy’s fifth Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellite was launched on June 24, from Space Launch Complex 41 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket in the 551 launch vehicle configuration. MUOS-5 is an on-orbit spare and the final satellite in the five-satellite MUOS constellation.
The US DOD’s Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) shall provide Global beyond line of sight (BLOS), secure voice, video and data communications to ground, naval, and air tactical warfighters on-the-move. MUOS network users will be able to talk direct to, text and transfer mission data amongst any other MUOS users around the world beyond line-of- sight. Previously UHF satellite communication systems users could ‘talk’ as long as they are under the coverage footprint of the same satellite. It will also provide support to disaster relief and humanitarian efforts around the globe.
General Dynamics has received a contract from the U.S. Army to support upgrades to the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) waveform used in the Army’s AN/PRC-155 two-channel MUOS-Manpack radios. U.S. Special Operations Command has given Harris Corporation an order for additional Falcon III radios for its wideband tactical communications network. The radios to be supplied under the $27 million order are the AN/PRC-117G manpack radio system and the AN/PRC-152A handheld radio system. Both are ready for use with the military’s Mobile User Objective System, or MUOS.
Indian Military Satellite Communications
GSAT-7 or INSAT-4F is a multi-band military communications satellite developed by ISRO. The Indian Navy is the user of the multi-band communication spacecraft, which has been operational since September 2013. According to defense experts, the satellite enables the navy to extend its blue water capabilities and stop relying on foreign satellites like Inmarsat, which provide communication services to its ships. GSAT-7, the multi-band communication satellite named Rukmini carries the payloads in UHF, C band and Ku band.
Rukmini provides networking capabilities to various Indian Naval assets. During Theater-level Readiness and Operational Exercise (Tropex) in the Bay of Bengal in 2014, Rukmini was able to network about 60 ships and 75 aircraft seamlessly. The intention of the Indian Navy is to use this geostationary naval communication and surveillance satellite to especially cover activities up to the Malacca Straits in the east and the Hormuz Strait to the west. Rukmini has a nearly 2,000 nautical mile ‘footprint’ over the Indian Ocean Region.
ISRO launches first military satellite to expand IAF communication capabilities
ISRO launched its advanced military communication satellite GSAT-7A successfully from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh in DEc 2018. This is the 35th Indian communication satellite weighing 2,250 kg. It is also the first satellite built primarily for the IAF to qualitatively unify its assets and improve combined, common intelligence during operations besides expanding the communication capabilities of the Indian Air Force (IAF). It will do this by connecting many of the ground radar stations, airbases and aircrafts operated by the IAF, and is also expected to boost some of their network-dependant warfare and drone capabilities.
The GSAT-7A is equipped with Ku-band transponders and two deployable solar array power units. It will assist the IAF to interlink different ground radar stations, airbases and AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) aircraft. The satellite will be instrumental in guiding the defence forces for beyond the line-of-sight missions.
$37 Bn Military Communications Market – Global Forecast to 2023: Opportunities in Rapid Adoption of Advanced Ka-Band Satellites for Communication Services
The military communications market is projected to grow from USD 31.50 billion in 2018 to USD 37.67 billion by 2023, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.6% during the forecast period, according to to ResearchAndMarkets.com. The advantages and disadvantages of this form of communication are highly dependent on the satellite and network configuration. Trends driving spending on the military communications sector will be underpinned by software defined radio, satellite connectivity and network-centric IP-based communications.
Factors, such as growing concerns related to security of military communications, increasing procurement of military communication solutions due to growing disputes among countries across the world, and the need to modernize and replace aging communication equipment are expected to drive the military communications market. On the other hand, interoperability issues may restrain the growth of the market.
Based on component, the military SATCOM systems segment is estimated to lead the military communications market in 2018, as satellite communication has become an integral platform for military communications. Military strategic and tactical relay (MILSTAR) and fleet satellite communication system (FLTSATCOM) are some of the advanced satellites used by militaries.
Based on communication type, the airborne communications segment is estimated to lead the military communications market in 2018. Technological advancements in the command and control systems for the airborne platform for improved surveillance and attack capabilities have increased the deployment of military communication solutions in the airborne communications segment.
Some of the Key vendor are:Aselsan (Turkey), BAE Systems (UK), Cobham (UK), Elbit Systems (Israel), General Dynamics (US), Harris Corporation (US), Inmarsat (UK), Iridium Communications (US), Israel Aerospace Industries (Israel), Kongsberg (Norway), L3 Technologies (US), Leonardo (Italy), Lockheed Martin (US), Northrop Grumman (US), Raytheon (US), Rheinmetall (Germany), Rockwell Collins (US), Rolta India (India), Saab (Sweden), Systematic (Denmark), Thales (France), Viasat (US), EID (Portugal), Kratos Defense & Security Solutions (US), Rohde & Schwarz (Germany)
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