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Briefing - Advanced Milcom on Commercial Sat Systems
by José del Rosario, NSR

Except for the WGS-1 satellite that was launched in 2007, the current fleet of military communications satellites represents decades-old technology and capabilities. In order to address current as well as emerging requirements for national security objectives, newer and more powerful systems are being developed and deployed by the U.S. Military. These assets include the Wideband Global Satcom (WGS), Advanced EHF satellites (AEHF) and the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) programs.

Advances in IT are changing the way warfighting and peacekeeping are being conducted. The ability to transmit critical information in theater in real-time, or near real-time, securely to and from various parts of the globe has enabled faster deployment of highly mobile forces. Bandwidth per soldier requirements has increased tremendously, and the result among others is that troops have become more capable in adapting quickly to changing conditions in the battlefield.

Satellite communications have played a key role in providing interoperable, robust, communications; however, the current fleet of satellites has proven to be inadequate in terms of bandwidth supply to address current as well as future operations. In the next, or future, “network-centric” architecture that will upgrade or evolve future operations, advanced communications’ systems will be required.

Advanced military satellite communications are often identified, and to a large extent, defined by the upcoming AEHF program. AEHF will provide global, highly secure, protected, survivable communications for all warfighters serving under the U.S. Department of Defense. Moreover, AEHF will provide greater total capacity and offer higher channel data rates compared to current milstar satellites.

The higher data rates permit transmission of tactical military communications such as real-time video, battlefield maps and targeting data. In addition, AEHF will also provide the critical survivable, protected, and endurable communications to the National Command Authority including presidential conferencing in all levels of conflict.

There is now an undeniable and accepted recognition that militaries around the globe cannot do away with commercial systems. Even if the U.S. Military were to achieve independence in terms of its bandwidth supply, the other benefits such as flexibility and redundancy that the commercial industry offers are invaluable.

Challenges and Requirements
FSS and MSS commercial satellites currently provide the same types of applications, including real-time video as well as tactical military communications. Commercial satellites are even a part of UAV missions, currently a growing and highly-critical application suite for warfighting that will increase in the future. Moreover, commercial satellites in terms of bandwidth may be able to throughput higher data rates based on currently available satellites based on bent-pipe and on-board processing programs. The sheer number of commercial satellites currently deployed makes bandwidth availability much higher compared to current and planned military programs, specifically for the U.S. military.

In terms of the definition as well as the main difference between AEHF and commercial communications satellites, AEHF will provide survivable, highly secure, protected, global communications for all warfighters serving under the U.S. Department of Defense, whereas commercial satellite systems are vulnerable in the event of attacks or engagements that include nuclear capability. In terms of the ability to throughput secure, reliable, real-time or near-real time data, commercial systems could play a role in providing advanced communications for military missions.

MILSATCOM systems are generally categorized as wideband, protected and narrowband:
  • Wideband systems provide high capacity,
  • Protected systems feature antijam, covertness, and nuclear survivability, and
  • Narrowband systems support users who need mobile voice and low-data-rate communications.
In terms of these categories, commercial systems can tap into wideband and narrowband applications via FSS and MSS platforms. Indeed, commercial outsourcing by the U.S. Military has led to healthy leases of wideband/broadband capacity for missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for UAV missions in both countries as well as Pakistan. For narrowband applications, the U.S. Military has had a contract with Iridium, specifically for such capabilities.

The only challenge, or requirement, not met by commercial systems lies in the protected realm. By definition, protected systems such as AEHF have the ability to avoid, prevent, negate, or mitigate the degradation, disruption, denial, unauthorized access, or exploitation of communications’ services by adversaries or the environment. This is particularly epitomized by activities that involve nuclear capabilities.

Another challenge or requirement currently unmet by commercial platforms is the ability to offer wideband capacity in the Polar Regions. AEHF will feature an Advanced Polar System both for wideband as well as protected needs. The ability of the commercial industry to offer wideband services in Polar regions may change with the upcoming Iridium NEXT constellation. However, the requirement for protected wideband communications will once again remain a challenge in the commercial realm.

Other features in upcoming advanced military systems include:
  • Capacity gains and improved features such as multiple high-gain spot beams that are important for small terminal and mobile users.
  • For AEHF, data rates up to 8.2 Mbps for future U.S. Army terminals will be provided.
  • For global communications, AEHF will use inter-satellite crosslinks, eliminating the need to route messages via terrestrial systems. This is planned for the TSAT program as well towards the end of the next decade.
Commercial systems can address these requirements:
  • In terms of capacity gains, current broadband satellite programs such as iPSTAR, Spaceway (HNS) and WildBlue have spot beams, and these service providers can engineer bandwidth capabilities to approach, or even exceed, 8.2 Mbps.
  • The challenge, of course, is the footprint since both programs are not global. However, planned systems such as Ka-Sat, Viasat and Yahsat should enable higher regional coverage across the globe.
  • In terms of crosslinks, this is not yet a feature comparable to AEHF or the upcoming TSAT program. However, initiatives in hosted payload arrangement can link multiple satellites via router-in-the-sky solutions that can replicate linkages in the aforementioned military programs.
The Market
Developments in military areas are incorporating commercial systems in “Netcentricity.” For instance, Viasat’s MD-1366 EBEM modem is a commercially available modem for the military’s high-speed broadband and multimedia transmissions certified to MIL-STD-188-165B. The MD-1366 defines a military standard for high-speed satellite communications that use military and commercial satellites at X-, C-, Ku-, and Ka-band frequencies. Equipment manufacturers are likewise receiving RFPs and contracts for multi-mode terminals that can point to either military or commercial satellites.

Advanced military communications feature advanced methods of interference and jamming analysis where terminal equipment is built to encrypt and decode transmissions. More importantly, advanced systems have the ability to survive rough treatment in hostile climates, specifically in a nuclear scenario.

Apart from the protected feature of the upcoming AEHF system, commercial systems can certainly participate in the future network architecture for future warfighting given the advancements and availability of commercial assets both in the space segment and in the ground segment. Anti-jamming, encryption and other secure military and commercial instruments can be incorporated to either approximate, or directly apply, military requirements on commercial resources.

In NSR’s latest market research report, Government & Military Demand on Commercial Satellites, 5th Edition, we outlined the commercial bandwidth requirements by U.S. as well as non-U.S. entities. The vast majority of commercial bandwidth has, and will, likely continue to be used by the U.S. Government; however, international commercial bandwidth needs are foreseen to increase at steady levels over the next 10-years as well.

Total demand for the entire government and military market will certainly diminish given that the U.S. Military is the anchor tenant in this sector. As proprietary assets begin to be deployed, terminals that support programs such as the JNN/WIN-T, which point to proprietary systems, will require less commercial bandwidth.

However, it is NSR’s view that commercial demand will continue over the long term. Commercial satellite demand is expected to diminish, but not disappear. NSR believes that the commercial market in terms of bandwidth demand has peaked in 2008 and will likely begin to decline until 2014 before growing at positive levels once again beginning in 2015.

This development is due mainly to two reasons. First, the military needs redundancy and flexibility in its operations, as mentioned previously. Proprietary systems face internal technical challenges, and flashpoints around the globe develop very quickly.
Commercial capacity ensures availability, as well as a secondary option should the primary preference be unavailable. Second, and more importantly, the vision for warfighting and peacekeeping in the future will begin to move to more automated activities such as UAS and UAV operations. And here, bandwidth including commercial satellite capacity will continue to play a key role in running these programs for surveillance, intelligence gathering and even tactical missions.

More To Come
Quite simply, advanced military communication satellites differ from commercial satellites mainly in terms of specialized components that make them less vulnerable, and more effective in a nuclear environment. As such, NSR expects continued and increased participation of the commercial industry in the development and provision of advanced military communication services.

About the author
Mr. del Rosario covers the Asia Pacific region and is a senior member of the consulting team where he focuses his research on quantitative modeling, data verification, and market forecasting for the wireless industry and satellite communications sector. He conducts ongoing research with specialization in policy analysis, regional economic indicators, regulatory initiatives and end user demand trends. Mr. del Rosario has advised clients on market trends, implications, and strategies on such diverse topics as WiMAX, mobile communications, mobile video, 3G offerings, terrestrial microwave services, IPTV, IP telephony, multi-mission satellite programs, launch vehicles, broadband equipment and services, Internet trunking, and Enhanced IP Services. Prior to joining NSR, Mr. del Rosario worked with Frost & Sullivan as Program Leader of the Mobile Communications Group, as Senior Analyst & Program Leader of the Satellite Communications Group, and most recently as Country Manager for the Philippines. Mr. del Rosario holds a Master of Arts degree in Applied Economics from The American University, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science/International Relations from the University of Santa Clara.