The US military has a growing appetite for satellite communications, but its needs are complex


With so many new technologies entering the commercial market, the military is looking for a new way to purchase satellite service.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland – The US military is in the satellite communications market, but with a complicated twist. It’s not just looking to buy broadband for troops in the field, but “end-to-end” services and durable hardware that can be deployed in harsh locations and provide connectivity within hours.

“We definitely need our tactical units to have an expeditionary network,” the brigadier said. General Robert Collins, head of the Army’s Tactical Networks program, said Sept. 8 during a panel discussion at the Satellite 2021 conference.

With so many new technologies entering the commercial market, the military is looking for a new way to purchase satellite service. Rather than putting together a wish list and asking the industry to respond, they want to see what the industry has to offer before they write the solicitation, Collins said. “We do things a little differently.

Commercial satellite operators, antenna manufacturers and integrators have been asked to show the military if they can make this vision a reality. Based on the results of the demonstrations, Collins’ office in Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, will prepare a tender.

The industry’s ability to deliver what the military calls “satcom as a managed service” is still a matter of debate as the playing field develops and the industry adds unprecedented levels of capability to deliver. spatial network.

Last year, the military issued a call for proposals for satcom services for its logistics network, but has since broadened the scope of its market research “to understand how an end-to-end satcom as a service model managed could support the army’s tactical network as a whole, “a June information request said. Commercial satellite communications integrated with ground systems, gateways and user terminals are desired.

Satcom as a service is not a new concept for the military. The Pentagon in 2019 purchased satcom as a managed service from satellite operator Iridium. The company was awarded a seven-year, $ 738.5 million contract to provide satellite services from its low Earth orbit (LEO) constellation to military users.

But the military now wants satcom services that bring a mix of providers and satellites from LEO and other orbits, and satellites that operate at different frequencies. This requires more complex network integration and interoperability of ground systems and terminals.

Clare Grason, head of the US Space Force’s satellite communications office, said multilayer and multiband satcom services are the way of the future.

“In the future, we are looking to replicate the Iridium model for larger satellite business partnerships,” she told the panel.

Grason’s office currently manages contracts worth $ 4.6 billion, but most are for satellite bandwidth and not managed services. She said there was a plan to acquire a commercial satcom in the future “as an inventory of capabilities” from which military users could choose. The concept is still being developed, she said.

Satellite operators become “integrators”

The Pentagon frequently looks to large systems integrators to bring together various technologies and products into one program. These integrators also sell their own products.

A similar trend is occurring in the satellite telecommunications industry, said Dave Micha, president of satellite operator Intelsat General.

“With the major DoD integrators, they build certain parts themselves, for others they work together. This is what the satellite industry is moving towards, ”said Micha. News.

Intelsat will be one of the companies trying to sell satellites as a managed service to the military. He said a demonstration is planned in the coming weeks.

Intelsat operates its own geostationary communications satellites, but will offer more comprehensive services that include non-GEO satellite broadband, Micha said. He declined to provide details, but said Intelsat would soon announce plans to offer non-GEO satellites.

The military needs the satellite industry to adopt common standards so that it can buy satellites as easily as consumers go to an Apple store to buy an iPhone, Micha said.

“In our industry, things are traditionally exclusive,” he said. “We offer an open architecture, based on 5G. We focus on delivering the whole ecosystem.

Micha said that Intelsat is also developing new terminals compatible with several satcom networks.

Intelsat’s business strategy would put it in competition with established integrators that provide managed satcom services from multiple vendors.

Dave Fields, senior vice president and general manager of Leonardo DRS Global Enterprise Solutions, warned that satellite operators are primarily motivated to sell their own solutions while true integrators are completely agnostic.

Leonardo DRS is one of a handful of satcom integrators who work with DoD and other government agencies.

“Our point is that I don’t want to sell you what I make, I want to sell you what is good for you as a customer,” Fields said in an interview.

The DoD needs access to all satcom systems to be resilient, Fields said.

For example, if a LEO system that operates in the Ku band is interfered with, no matter how many satellites are in the network, the DoD will not be able to use this service. “This is where multiple bands come in,” and users could switch to a Ka band system, he added. “If I have an antenna that’s both Ku and Ka band, now you start talking about resilience, and that’s what we want our customers to address.”

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