The cancellation of the TSAT (Transformational Satellite Communications System) military satellite program ushered in a new era for military satellite communications. As a harsh economic recession took root, governments suddenly found they no longer had the desire or reserves to have all encompassing next-generation military satellite communication systems, but bandwidth demands remain high, so governments around the globe are looking for more cost-effective solutions to meet the needs of armed forces spread throughout the globe. This means more partnerships with the commercial satellite sector as well as a greater openness towards new technologies.
Importance of Satellite Technology
While the TSAT program as a whole has been scuttled, technologies developed to date ultimately could be used in other programs, says Bill Ostrove, a defense analyst at Forecast International. “While some might say many of the goals of TSAT were overly ambitious, the program also successfully developed many new technologies that could be used in the future. The Pentagon is weighing a number of options to provide the capabilities to soldiers. New satellites could be built that include only one or two of the capabilities, rather than including all of the capabilities of TSAT. This would reduce costs of those individual satellites. The DOD could then focus on the capabilities needed the most. Some of the capabilities could also be included on satellites that are still being built, such as AEHF (Advanced Extremely High Frequency) and Wideband Global Satcom (WGS),” he says.
Worldwide government expenditures for space programs reaching a record $68 billion in 2009, according to Euroconsult’s report “Profiles of Government Space Programs: Analysis of 60 Countries & Agencies.” Government spending for defense-related space programs is estimated to have climbed to $32 billion in 2009, a 12 percent increase compared to 2008. The only downside is that budgets may actually begin to fall back in the coming years. “The sector should be prepared for funding to be reigned in over the next several years. Most governments will return to budget austerity after a short period of unusually massive spending to support their national economy, and we see the confirmation of what we anticipated some years ago: a period of lower investment in the coming years due to the completion of major space programs in many countries. This combination of factors could seriously impact both public and industry stakeholders,” says Steve Bochinger, managing director of Euroconsult North America and editor of the report, says.
But many of the capabilities that would have been provided by TSAT are still needed, and that will add to the already heavy dependence that militaries are placing on commercial technology. “Satellites works alongside other communications technologies in a more complementary way and sometimes, other technologies work better with satellite,” “The latest example of using netted communications in the case of Iridium or push-to-talk capabilities from SkyTerra increases the reach of radios that would otherwise be more limited. The thinking has changed in the sense that as satellites’ coverage grew and cost have come down, its capacity was more closely examined and for better, has put the onus on operator and equipment vendor at making greater efforts to provide government and military users with more affordable, better performing, lighter solutions,” he says.