Demand for X-band to Persist Despite US Military Drawbacks
[Via Satellite 02-12-2014] Providers of X-band services may find more staying power in military areas of operation. XTAR, an X-band satellite operator, has mentioned that the general downturn in satellite capacity demand has not been as acute as what is seen for other bandwidths. The key reason for this, according to the operator, is the continued need for airborne services like Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR).
“We have not seen the sharp decline in, lets say Afghanistan, that the other satellite operators have experienced in the last 24 months,” said Andrew Ruszkowski, CCO of XTAR. “As you see forces being drawn out of Afghanistan and general communications needs decreasing, there are a set of systems and applications that stay behind long after the troops are gone. They include airborne ISR, for example.”
X-band was previously viewed by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) as more of a commodity than unique resource, according to Ruszkowski. The development of niche applications specific to the band has changed this mindset. Smaller aperture sizes and an uptick in broadband capability have made X-band practical in settings where other wavelengths would be less effective.
“We are seeing terminals that are not just below one meter, but oftentimes below half a meter in size, which are performing at about 10 Mbps off of the aircraft, not just into the aircraft,” said Ruszkowski. “That’s not a capability that you see in any of the other frequency bands with such highly efficient space segment usage.”
These technological advances have contributed to the persistence of X-band in areas where operations on the ground are being scaled down. Aircraft specifically are being equipped and used with X-band gear to complete manned airborne ISR missions. In some cases, manned missions have become more opportune than those carried out by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).
“Where we see our success growing the fastest is in the area of manned aircraft that are often performing the same missions as UAVs,” said Ruszkowski. “UAVs specifically are not a big driver of demand … most of the large systems, particularly those operated by the U.S. like the Global Hawk system, were built around Ku-band, and they are not easily converted to being used with X-band.”
The DoD is planning continued investments in X-band, most notably the Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) constellation, which, once completed, will provide a network of 10 satellites with X- and Ka-band capabilities. Several international partners are working with the U.S. on this constellation, and Ruszkowski sees interest in X-band developing among NATO allies.
“We do see European [NATO] countries looking very carefully at how X-band supports their government requirements,” said Ruszkowski. “There are a couple of future Request For Proposals (RFPs) that we expect to be coming out that will show how they actually plan to implement X-band use more extensively.”
It is possible, too, that these NATO countries may step in as the U.S. continues to withdraw from the Middle East. As they do, commercial X-band operators may be further called upon.
“Maybe they don’t do so themselves on a global basis,” said Ruszkowski, “but they fill in specific areas where the U.S. leaves a vacuum. Many countries’ militaries are not as committed to specific technologies which are dependent upon one frequency or the other, so they have the enviable position of being able to choose the right frequency band for the mission that they are about to undertake. They are making investments anew in technologies that could include X-band.”
Further opportunities for X-band operators may lie in the Asia-Pacific region. XTAR, seeing a 10 percent growth in 2013 with its existing satellite coverage in other areas, is looking closely at this future market. This may include a new satellite to meet anticipated demand. Ruszkowski mentioned this geographic region as an area where the company expects the demand for commercial satcom to grow, and as a big priority for XTAR in the near future.
“Today, XTAR doesn’t have coverage over that part of the world, though we are considering our options for creating that in the next couple of years,” he said. “I am personally convinced that the value of commercial X-band in that part of the world is as great or greater than the value offered by any other frequency band. So you may see XTAR in that part of the world shortly.”