To operate in today’s theaters — with 38,000 NATO and 47,000 U.S. troops in mountainous Afghanistan and 115,000 U.S. troops in the deserts of Iraq — the military needs even lighter and more capable ground systems that provide beyond-line-of-sight communications. With the restrictive protocol of limited troop engagement, the need for real-time linkage on surveillance platforms and command and control structures has been elevated. What are the latest efforts to meet the warfighter’s needs, and how are these efforts being impacted by growth in the use of communications-on-the-move, communications-on-the-pause and networking-on-the-move terminals? Will the future yield high-power, commercial X-band communications satellites designed to meet growing commercial and military bandwidth demands? What spectrum will help satisfy the U.S. military’s huge demand for space-based centric warfare?
Pentagon’s insatiable Demand for bandwidth
With the cancellation of TSAT, the U.S. Air Force’s advanced satellite communications and the expected move away from space-based projects in future Department of Defense budgets, it appears one of the primary means of closing the expanding bandwidth gap of the warfighters could be X-band provided by commercial operators. David Cavossa, vices president of operations for CapRock Government Solutions, says, “Now that the reality of the TSAT cancellation has set in, there are two segments of opportunities. One, is X-band and Ka-band. The Department of Defense needs more commercial X-band and Ka-band, and … that’s where CapRock is positioning itself to be a leader in the future. There are already a lot of players in the Ku-band and the C-band. We have a lot of services today in [those bands], but we want to be the leaders for the military in X-band and Ka-band. The second segment, which we really don’t have a play in today, is hosted payloads, and that’s where companies like Intelsat General and SES Americom and the satellite operators are really going to lend a helping hand to the Department of Defense in the near future and already have, as you’ve probably seen. The payloads, I think, are going to help meet some of that need when TSAT went away.”
The U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency is the sole authority for providing commercial satcom services to the Pentagon to augment the military satellite communications system. According to DISA PEO and Satellite Director Bruce Bennett, “With the cancellation of TSAT, options that have never been in play before are now on the table. We have always depended upon commercial satellite to fill our voids. We don’t see that changing any time soon. … Our communication needs are following in strict accordance with Gordon Moore’s Law. So our requirements keep growing faster than we can put things up, so what you’re seeing is we need it everywhere and we need it yesterday.”