With the United States and its allies embroiled in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the demands on technology to help warfighters has never been greater, particularly against an enemy that is more fluid and flexible than before.
Satellite technology is playing a pivotal role in assisting military forces, and the United States is trying to exploit all of satellite’s capabilities in assisting its forces. There is a healthy demand for next-generation military satellite communications terminals, and many vendors are playing a role in providing state-of-the-art communications to military forces. The demands for this hardware is growing. “With the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of [request for proposals] that we are responding to and the number of satellite terminals we have installed compared to previous years. This increase is not only domestic, but we are also seeing quite a bit of activity internationally,” says Wally Martland, president of Newpoint Technologies. Fredrik Hanell, CEO of Sweden’s C2Sat, says, “Just like it has previously done for network-based broadband telecommunications, the need for more bandwidth is penetrating new mobile applications requiring satellite-based services. We believe that the market for satellite communications terminals is on the brink of dramatic growth, mainly because the demand for the transfer of digital information to vessels at sea is increasing. In the military sector, the tactical applications are becoming increasingly complex and bandwidth demanding, whilst they are being made available to even the smallest combat units.”
While the demands being placed on satellite vendors are increasing, vendors also face very stringent demands from military forces seeking “smaller, lighter weight and lower profile antenna systems that can survive the environment and also can perform on the move — which means control of the pointing in dynamic environments — and are packaged uniquely to fit on the available space on the platform while providing the communications for the concept of operations desired,” says David Smith, vice president and general manager of EMS Technologies’ Defense & Space Systems, a company that supports the ground-based terminal side of the market. “The satellites going up, particularly TSAT (Transformational Satellite Communications System), are aimed precisely at that with the kind of power and focusing of beams so a mobile user with a smaller system can get the gain that is required to achieve the higher data rates needed for the objective,” he says. Jeff Perry, vice president of business development of Harris Defense Programs says, “The warfighter needs increased mobility and flexibility to meet its missions. This equates to system improvements in system size, weight, power, set up, reliability and ease of use,” he says. “The demand for increased bandwidth will require multiband systems and waveform efficiency. User mobility needs will require ad hoc communication networks and dynamic antenna positioning. Increasingly sophisticated enemy threats will require jam-resistant waveforms. Mobile networking technology is maturing. [Radio frequency] front-end continues to evolve with higher levels of integration and improved performance. Communications on the move is moving up the frequency bands with increasing data rates.” To help meet these requirements, Martland believes manufacturers have developed terminals that are managed much more efficiently. “The terminals being deployed today are much more automated than in the past to allow the frontline soldier to be able to deploy and establish communications without having to send out specialists to deploy the terminal,” he says. “In addition, they are no longer managed on an individual terminal basis. They are being centrally managed. This allows your experts to remain behind the lines and manage the communications without being placed at risk.” Martland emphasizes centralized control as a major point of improvement. “We are seeing more emphasis on being able to remotely manage all the terminals in an area of operations such as Iraq or Afghanistan via the engineering service channel,” he says. “The ability of the software to use the Iridium and Inmarsat networks to provide a back up communications link virtually anywhere in the world is a major step forward and really enables the whole concept of centralized control of all the terminals, because you do always have a way to get control of the terminal back if something happens to the terminal itself,” he says. With the addition of these improvements, Hanell believes there is no doubt that today’s terminals offer “significantly better performance. We believe the main differentiator is that the newer generation of [satellite communications] terminals provide significantly better performance,” he says. “The implication is that military customers can use a low-cost alternative to the high-end military terminals and still achieve extremely good tracking accuracy and connectivity uptime. Further developments and adaptations of these entry-level terminals to better meet even the toughest [military] standards will inevitably lead to them cannibalizing on the high-end segment.”