The U.S. military budget continues to shrink to the order of $487 billion in the next decade alone as conventional forces draw down in Iraq and Afghanistan. Military decision makers, however, continue to look at how best to field technology to meet their growing requirements, while those on the commercial side of the bargaining table determine which offering is most likely to impact the military market during the next three to five years.
In talking with government and industry sources, three trends on future military requirements become clear: the government’s hunger for bandwidth on the move will continue to grow; the reduced military budgets are here to stay; and the shift to more airborne surveillance and reconnaissance missions that blossomed during the deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan will persist, expanding to new geographies such as Africa.
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“As the U.S. military shifts its focus from CENTCOM to the Pacific theater, they will want to know how to leverage the lessons learned from the last 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, while taking into consideration the different challenges and threats that are emerging in the Pacific,” says Scott Scheimreif, acting vice president of the Government Division for Iridium.
“One of the big technology challenges for our customers today has to do with the overwhelming amount of incoming intelligence data originating from UAVs, manned ISR applications, Earth observation satellites, radio frequency identification, sensor in-fill applications and many other sources,” notes Britt Lewis, vice president of marketing and business strategy for Intelsat General. “It’s a critical challenge to capture, manage and analyze the data within a tolerable elapsed time, and in turn, deliver intelligence-related products to the right people in time to be using in decision-making and action.” Cost effectively meeting mission requirements for location and duration anywhere in the world clearly is a major issue, Lewis adds. “Military customers want coverage in key areas of need worldwide and support for portability, from one satellite or connectivity to another.”
JJ Shaw, vice president of product development for Inmarsat Government, agrees. “The question that I think keeps the military up at night is being solely dependent on a single technology or frequency. They want higher data rates to more applications — even down to the unit level. They’re looking for more diversity, more robustness and more resiliency.”
He further explains that by being able to input more nodes in the network, the military can overcome vulnerability concerns from relying on a single technology.
Shaw contends that military users will get these features through “terrestrial diversity, node terrestrial, orbital arc diversity, spectrum diversity and even media diversity.”
The military’s need to use commercial satcom will continue, say industry observers. “I expect that we will continue to see growth in the reliance on commercial satcom, just not at the pace we saw over the last decade,” Scheimreif says.
“The big question on the minds of my customers is bandwidth — capacity, as well as the whole cyber question — and that their data is secure; that service is resilient,” adds Simon Kershaw, divisional managing director for Telecom Services at Astrium Services.
Astrium Services, through its Paradigm business, operates the Skynet 5 satellite constellation for the U.K. Ministry of Defense. He observes that as Ka-band systems come online, the availability of bandwidth will increase. “We are starting to do work to provide much higher bandwidth to mobile terminals such as fixed aircraft.”
Kershaw emphasizes that it’s not just about data — it’s about information. “You will see the fusion of information beyond communications — the ability to fuse and exploit information at the warfighter level,” Kershaw adds.