In July, at the Seattle World Affairs Council, U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, leader of U.S. Central Command, discussed how broadband IP network technology won the 2008 battle of Sadr City, Iraq, as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and warfighters using broadband communications on the move played key roles. In small or large battlefield operations of the 21st century and beyond, bandwidth will be as important as bullets for the warfighters, and the Transformational Satellite Communications System (TSAT) was believed to be force driven and necessary for air and naval superiority. Now what are the consequences of the U.S. Department of Defense’s cancellation of TSAT and how will the bandwidth gaps be filled?
The next revolutionary military communication satellite system, TSAT, was a development shaped by Sept. 11, global terror and the technology development of UAVs. The vision was to increase the military satellite data rate capacity by thousands of times and enhance the ability to deploy troops around the globe by creating a user-friendly interface available anywhere. With Milstar 2, an image collected by a UAV would take 2 minutes to process, a radar image 12 minutes and a space-based radar image would take 88 minutes. The vision for TSAT was that any of these images could be delivered in less than a second.
But the program, TSAT, a constellation of six satellites connected to the Global Information Grid (GIG), was plagued with scheduling and budget problems since its inception in 2004. The satellite system was originally scheduled to launch in 2012 but was delayed to 2013 after a $300 million reduction of program funding was cut by U.S. Congress in 2005. The U.S. Air Force then delayed its decision to select TSAT’s final space segment development contractor. In October, the Pentagon announced that it would defer its decision on choosing a contractor to build the system until 2010, with no guarantees that it would continue to fund further development. A November report by the Defense Science Board and the Intelligence Science Board had warned against further delays, calling TSAT "essential to enhancing military and intelligence operations. Without TSAT, mobile land forces and Navy ships will lack sufficient assured (ISR) [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] communications capacity," the study said.
In December, after rumors of the program being on the brink of termination and a series of critical reports from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the U.S. Air Force released a new request for proposal to Lockheed Martin and Boeing, changing the program timeline once more by calling for five satellites and ground stations, with the launch of the first satellite projected for 2019. Gates, who retained his position as defense secretary through the January administration change, finally pulled the plug on TSAT four months later. "Gates determined that the risks were not offset by the chances of success with the current TSAT architecture," says Bruce Bennett, program executive for satellite communications teleport and services for the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA).