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5 Things We Learned at Global MilSatCom Today

By Mark Holmes | November 4, 2015
NSR's Christopher Baugh speaking at Global MilSatCom 2015.

NSR’s Christopher Baugh speaking at Global MilSatCom 2015. Photo: Claude Rousseau, NSR

[Via Satellite 11-04-2015] Global MilSatCom is one of the main events for military and communications executives and officials. Here, we look at the five key learnings from day two of the event.

MUOS and the International Question

The United Sates’ Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), which will likely be in full operation by summer next year, was described as a game changer today by Harold Haney, chief of the satcom and spectrum management division at the United States Strategic Command. One of the most intriguing things to come out of Haney’s presentation was that he raised the possibility for international partners to be a part of MUOS operations, which is a significant policy decision on the part of the U.S. While nothing appears imminent on that front, international partnerships involving MUOS are an exciting possibility.

Haney believes MUOS takes U.S. military capability to the next level. The system will be all IP, which mean a warfighter does not need to bring another device to transmit data.

Haney said MUOS will be fundamental to all missions, bringing a level of management that is a 100-percent improvement on what the United States currently has in narrowband. With so much emphasis on wideband at the event, such talk on narrowband was particularly interesting.

MUOS is being planned into every mission, Haney said; it will provide worldwide UHF secure communications to mobile warfighters with enhanced features and connectivity options. Over the next few years, we will see if it lives up to the hype.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay The Same

In conversations with many people today, a frequent observation is that we are hearing virtually the same things that we heard last year. Some presenters have even used the same slides. The key theme, as mentioned earlier, is about greater collaboration and partnerships with the commercial satellite sector — but, is it really happening? It appears like the answer to that question is no.

However, in one of my conversations with a leading government official, they said things could definitely be on the cusp of change. Everybody right now is talking about investing in next generational capability over the next two years. But the nature of the conversations could change, as departments of defense around the world look to make the most of these new capabilities coming online.

Certainly, despite the calls for greater collaboration and partnerships, this has yet to be heeded. It seems everybody is researching the potential of next generation satellites separately, and there could be far greater benefits if nations got together and created study groups to examine these technology issues going forward.

Overall, the push for greater international cooperation was a major theme at the event. It seems like Global MilSatCom 2015 is not that much different from Global MilSatCom 2014, but change could be coming.

NATO’s Latest Plan Close to Gaining Approval

NATO is close to gaining approval for its latest 15-year plan, and should be done by the end of the year. This ambitious 1.5 billion euros strategy (CP130) will run from 2019 to 2034. Tom Plachecki, chief of network services and IT infrastructure service line at NATO Communications and Information Agency, told attendees that out of the 1.5 billion euros ($1.65 billion), 1.1 billion euros ($1.21 billion) will be spent on space segment, and 400 million euros ($439.57 million) on ground infrastructure. This will form a key part of NATO’s CP130 Capability Package.

This investment of 1.5 billion euros signals an almost doubling of the existing investment between 2005 and 2019. Plachecki admitted NATO is opening the door for commercial satcom more than it has ever done before, saying NATO wants to provide more capability through commercial satellite partnerships. This represents a shift in thinking. Anytime you mention a figure of 1.5 billion euros, it also gets peoples’ attention!

Role of Commercial Satellite Sector Still Up For Grabs

A number of speakers are optimistic that, in the new environment, nations can use commercial satellite capacity more than ever before. Brian Rodriguez, director of business development and strategy at Raytheon, called for expanded collaboration between commercial and military satcom and partner nations. He said resiliency and diversity through a combination of various commercial and global military satellites “is now within reach.”

Another key theme was that small satellites across different orbits will also play a major role. Commercial satellites being used in milsatcom does not necessarily mean GEO. Ultimately, small satellites could provide a very cost-effective alternative to bigger satellites, and with an emphasis still on reducing costs, it seems as though small satellites could definitely find a bigger niche in the military market.

O3b Networks was one of the presenters at Global MilSatCom 2015, but the role of a company such as O3b in this market is open to debate. It remains to be seen whether this market will become a major revenue stream for the company.

Hosted Payloads — Is the ‘In’ Thing of Yesterday Going to be ‘In’ Tomorrow?

One of the underlying themes of the event today is the future regarding hosted payloads. While they have been much talked about, there have still not been a huge amount of deals in this area. One government official I spoke to says that hosted payloads still have a bright future.

As new capabilities come online, and the U.S. Department of Defense and others figure out the partnerships they want to build, it will be interesting to see whether the hosted payload deal will remain en vogue in the satellite industry, or whether the partnership model will ultimately move in a different direction.

And Finally

There are more cows in Nebraska than people. 1.9 million cows compared to 1.7 million people. Thanks to Harold Haney for that one…