Home >> April 2013 Edition >> Advancing COTM Technologies To Enhance Warfighter Communications
Advancing COTM Technologies To Enhance Warfighter Communications
By Rick Lober, Vice President + General Manager, Hughes Defense and Intelligence Systems Division

LoberHead Military organizations around the globe need reliable, secure and cost-effective Communications-On-The-Move (COTM) solutions to keep troops connected on the ground, in the air and at sea. Satellite communications (SATCOM) is the ideal technology to provide beyond-line-of-sight (BLoS) broadband communications for the most challenging missions, including special operations, search and rescue, as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR).

Although supporting continuous broadband satellite connectivity for COTM presents significant challenges, new technological advances are available to address the critical need for on-the-move solutions that allow the military to successfully complete their missions.

As the U.S. draws down troops in current zones of conflict, the Department of Defense (DoD) faces the challenge of providing secure wideband SATCOM for highly-mobile users in the next contested operating environment. Future adversaries are likely to be more technologically-advanced and will intentionally disrupt military communications. The need is paramount to overcome enemy communication-jamming attempts, even while transferring large amounts of data between tactical warfighters, strategic decision-makers and command and control centers.

The DoD currently uses commercial satellites to fulfill approximately 80 percent of the department’s SATCOM needs. Given the current national and global fiscal situation, it is unlikely that the DoD will develop new communication systems that will satisfy the demand for SATCOM in the future. The commercial satellite industry is well-positioned to partner with DoD to drive affordable and proven solutions in existing and future SATCOM systems.

Ultra-Low Profile Antennas
Today’s military requires easy-to-use, transportable terminals that can be rapidly deployed and provide secure broadband communications for tactical operations while minimizing detection and interference. They need to be compact, interoperable and ruggedized to support continuous broadband satellite connectivity with mobile terminals, while compensating for shifting transmission paths and blockage by obstacles. The DoD requires ultra-low profile antennas to meet tight volume and height constraints, thereby helping maintain the anonymity of communications vehicles and protect warfighters in conflict zones.

LoberHeadFig1 In the past, industry has struggled to address the competing requirements for smaller terminals, higher data rates and secure connectivity through capable solutions which were typically heavy and impractical for tactical mobility applications. However, technology now exists that provides an ultra-low profile antenna and a highly-portable manpack for global COTM missions. Lightweight Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSAT) and ultra-low profile mobile antennas allow military units to transport a full antenna, quickly install it where needed, transmit/receive securely at broadband speeds, then uninstall and move it to another location.

The latest generation VSAT manpacks and ultra-low profile mobile antennas are economical, practical for tactical mobility platforms and offer high performance in a small profile. This creates a safer environment for military users, making identification by adversaries difficult. These terminals can be configured to connect worldwide with commercial and government Ka-band satellites, having increased aperture efficiency, high data rates and enhanced control of radiated power spectral density, while remaining compliant with regulatory requirements.

Protected SATCOM Advancements
The military relies on state-of-the-art technology to securely transfer intelligence information for tactical operations. The need for “bandwidth-hungry” airborne ISR applications together with bandwidth used for secure frequency-hopping, spread-spectrum and anti-jamming communication devices is expected to grow. Users require higher rates of data transmission, which can be costly when transmitting critical files, streaming video and enabling video teleconferencing between tactical warfighters and command centers.

Currently, both traditional DoD and commercial SATCOM providers are developing options to reduce acquisition risk for an affordable networking architecture—providing U.S. and allied forces with protected high data rate communications in future contested warfighting environments. The government intends to develop design concepts and demonstrate mature technologies, leveraging capabilities that the commercial SATCOM industry employs for its global, satellite networks

Furthermore, the commercial industry’s extensive experience in waveform design and development will be tapped to meet the cost effectiveness goals for a future protected tactical satellite communications system.

Cellular Service & High-Throughput Back Reach
Deploying a combination of wireless 4G/Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology and high-throughput satellite backhaul offers another option for disseminating large files and real-time video between our warfighters and strategic decision-makers. Integrated designs of these two technologies mitigate latency issues that can disrupt LTE traffic over conventional satellite links, providing the ideal mobile broadband solution for both military and public safety applications. Warfighters and first responders will have the most advanced deployable mobile communications capabilities available in the critical moments of a conflict, or immediately after a disaster.

Defense organizations need continuous connectivity with command and control centers to successfully complete their missions in harsh, challenging communication environments. These three new technology developments result in solutions that provide the most up-to-date information on strategic, operational and tactical situational awareness, offering greater bandwidth efficiency and BLoS capability for all mobile users.