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MILSATCOM Electronic Market Trends Thru 2020 - A Strategy Analytics Executive Summary
Author: Asif Anwar, Director within the Strategic Technologies Practice at Strategy Analytics

asif intro msm 050610 Forecast + Outlook Snapshot
A desire for higher bandwidth and networking capabilities in Military Satellite Communications (MILSATCOM) is creating new opportunities for advanced electronic components. Driven by growth in satellite launches and increasingly sophisticated capabilities, the annual market for electronics will grow from $796 million in 2009 to nearly $2.58 billion in 2020.

Communications forms an essential part of the infrastructure required to create a battle plan successful. Satellite-based communications, with their broad coverage areas, allow geographically dispersed users to exchange information quickly and efficiently.

Since the “space race” of the early 1960’s, the US government and others have focused on military satellite communications (MILSATCOM) as a vital component for military strategy and national defense.
The MILSATCOM market is largely US-centric, with a handful of large OEMs dominating the landscape.

As other countries have recognized the value and devoted resources to MILSATCOM, Strategy Analytics sees the market growing along two paths: the US and other large military powers will continue to increase the capabilities and sophistication of their networks, while smaller countries will begin establishing capability.

Strategy Analystics believes the desire and need for increased bandwidth capability being experienced in terrestrial communications will reach these military satellites. This will increase the number and sophistication of satellites in constellations with an estimate of 12 satellites launched in 2009 — this will increase to 28 satellites in 2020. Coupled with these increases will be a slight increase in the cost of a satellite and the electronics content to meet the increasingly sophisticated missions.

Driven by all these factors, Strategy Analytics estimates the annual market for MILSATCOM electronics, which was nearly $796 million in 2009, will grow at a CAAGR of 12 percent to reach $2.58 billion in 2020.

To accommodate these increased capabilities, newer satellite programs are incorporating more electronically scanned arrays for communications and much higher levels of processing power — a mix of TWT amplifiers and GaAs T/R modules will continue to enable the communication arrays, with GaN starting to capture share toward the end of the period.

Strategy Analytics estimates that the annual demand for GaAs components was nearly $30 million in 2009 and it will grow to $105 million in 2020. In the same period, we believe TWT content will grow from slightly more than $124 million to nearly $372 million.
Silicon, the primary technology for the processing and control functions, will be the largest contributor to the electronics content. We estimate Silicon content will grow from nearly $340 million in 2009 to slightly more than 1.19 billion in 2020.

This report analyzes the development, technologies and challenges for military communications satellites. A complete military satellite communications (MILSATCOM) network includes the satellites, user terminals and ground control segments. This report will only address the satellite, or space portion of these networks. The remaining segments are rich in electronic content and diversity in their own right and will be the subject of separate reports in the future.

These MILSATCOM satellites are becoming increasingly sophisticated and expensive and they contain a great deal of electronic content. The United States is the largest user and producer of this capability and a handful of US manufacturers dominate the market. Despite this relatively small manufacturer and user community, this market is fostering a lot of innovation as phased array antennas, lighter satellites, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components and more processing power for increasingly sophisticated missions are implemented.

The complete Strategy Analytics report examines the basic principles and architecture of satellite communications systems and how they are evolving and also discusses some of the technology and platforms that are enabling this evolution. The report also touches on some of the current and future developments that will affect these often times multi-billion dollar programs. All information in the report and this executive summary was researched using only public domain information.

Electronic Component Demand Scenarios
Military communications networks provide for the exchange of voice, video and data between geographically dispersed elements of a battle force. These networks consist of user terminals, satellites and a ground network that provides control and interface functions. While all three segments contain advanced electronics content, this report will focus only on the satellite portion.

Military communications satellites range from simple “bent pipe” architecture where transponders in the satellite receive a signal and re-transmit it to Earth, to architectures that contain sophisticated on-board processors and link to other satellites in space. The transponders, control and satellite platforms are diverse but high performance semiconductor devices and electronic technologies enable them all. The caveat is these satellites play a vital role in national security, so it is difficult to determine all of the exact details. It is likely that much of this information will remain sensitive for some years to come.

This section uses Strategy Analytics’ expertise to analyze the use of advanced electronics and the associated semiconductor component technologies that underpin the transponder/antenna, onboard processing and related systems for representative military communications satellites. This is a growing market with existing users looking to upgrade capabilities and new users realizing the value of communications to national defense.

MILSATCOM Production Thru 2020
The satellite industry, in general, has weathered recent economic events better than most market segments. MILSATCOM development times are long and their missions are critical for national security, making them more insulated from economic fluctuations. As mentioned, MILSATCOM is a growing market with 12 satellite launches occurring in 2009, to expand to 28 satellites being launched in 2020, for a CAAGR of 9 percent over that time period.

There are several reasons for this growth. For all users, the size of the Earth requires multiple satellites placed in orbit in a constellation to cover the areas of interest. Constellations typically need a minimum of 3 to 4 satellites (and potentially a number of spares) to provide adequate communications coverage and perhaps an order of magnitude more satellites for navigation coverage.

For existing users, upgrade of satellites is not feasible — this means new capabilities are required and aging satellites means new launches with more birds. Additionally, more countries in the world are seeing the advantages of MILSATCOM capabillities and are looking to implement, or expand, their networks.

Exhibit 1 shows Strategy Analytics’ projections for MILSATCOM platforms from 2008 to 2020.

asif d1 msm 050610

There are two important trends shown in this forecast. The first is the steady upward trend of satellite launches. The regional and functional contribution to the total will change over the forecast period, but the overall number will continue to increase. The US has been in the forefront of the technologically sophisticated communications satellite activity and this will likely level out as next generation programs have gotten very expensive and are under tremendous scrutiny. To fill this gap, activity from other countries such as Russia, China, India, Japan and Germany will increase as these countries, and others, expand their capability.

The proportion of navigational satellites is likely to increase. Currently, the 30-satellite US NAVSTAR network is the only fully functional Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS). This will change as the Russians retrofit and update their GLONASS network. In addition, there are efforts by Europe (Galileo) and China (Compass) that will reportedly rival or surpass the size of the US network over time.

The second event of interest is a jump in shipments in the 2013 period. This will be the result of the cancellation by the US government of the highly sophisticated Transformational Satellite (TSAT) program. This satellite constellation was to offer significant improvement for wideband and secure satellite communications. The US is attempting to maintain as much of this capability as possible and one likely scenario is launching additional AEHF satellites. While these satellites fall short of the specified performance of TSAT, they are among the most sophisticated in the world. Adding additional satellites to the constellation will replace some of the functionality lost through the cancellation and this should occur around 2013.

The US Army is currently developing a nanosatellite that has the potential to alter the dynamics of the MILSATCOM market. This program aims to develop very small, inexpensive satellites to use in a variety of missions. The idea is to simplify the electronics functionality on each satellite and offset this by a dramatic increase in the number of satellites in a constellation. The first prototypes are scheduled for launch in 2010. This forecast does not account for any nanosatellite share in the market because the program is in the early stages and has yet to demonstrate a viable usage model. This development does merit further attention because, if successful, it has the ability to dramatically increase the quantity and reduce the electronics content of satellites.

Transponder Electronics
On early bent-pipe satellites, the transponder simply received the signal, converted the frequency to a different channel, and amplified it for re-transmission. As data rates and the functionality of the satellite have increased, these transponders have become much more sophisticated. While dish antennas and TWTs are still in use, more satellites are incorporating phased arrays. The advantage is the arrays may be driven to create multiple beams from a single array face.

There are two types of arrays: passive (PESA) arrays uses TWTs to provide transmit power and they contain less solid-state content. Active (AESA) arrays consist of lower power transmit/receive (T/R) modules typically built using gallium arsenide (GaAs) compound semiconductor technology. In either case, the transponder feeds the array element and has much more electronic content than early versions.

Strategy Analytics estimates that the total component demand for MILSATCOM transponder electronics was $280 million in 2009. This content will increase to nearly $954 million per platform in 2020 for a CAAGR of nearly 13 period over the period.

Of this total, digital processing represents the fastest growing segment, going from 10% to 13 percent of the total over the period. This reflects the increasing baseband complexity and control requirements for the RF electronics.

Military Satellite Communications
The mission of a MILSATCOM is simple: provide information to warfighters who may be geographically dispersed. While the mission is straightforward, the implementation is not. The challenge becomes providing more information, at faster rates over greater distances. The challenges of the past and the evolution of military satellites are playing a crucial role in how 21st century conflicts are planned and executed.

asif d2 msm 050610

The concept of communications satellites only became feasible with the Soviet Union’s Sputnik program of the late 1950’s. These series of launches demonstrated that man-made devices could be placed into an orbit around the Earth. Prior to this, the United States had been experimenting with the idea of space-based communications by bouncing radio signals off the moon. In response to the Soviet Sputnik launch, the US space program began in earnest and the “space-race” was on.

The first US military communications satellite launch was in 1958. This device, known as Project SCORE (Signal Communication by Orbiting Relay Equipment), was experimental in nature and used primarily to show that an Atlas missile could be placed into low-altitude orbit. The secondary objective was to demonstrate the capabililties of two redundant communications repeaters built into the nose of the missile.

Over the next several years, the US launched an array of experimental communications satellites of increasing sophistication. In 1966, the first operational communications satellite was launched as a result of the aptly named Initial Defense Communication Satellite Program (IDCSP).

A total of 28 IDCSP satellites were launched with a mission of strategic communications between fixed or transportable ground stations and ships. These sites were all characterized by large transmit-receive antennas that limited their applicability. The next US MILSATCOM evolution was the Tactical Communication Satellite (TacSat).

The TacSat program was instrumental in driving satellite development along its current path. These satellites were designed with UHF and X-band capabilities to permit operation with a wide variety of smaller Earth terminals. The smaller Earth antenna requirement drove the need for high-power transmitters. This, in turn, necessitated a large solar-cell area to create enough energy for the transmitter and this drove the early enclosure designs. These platforms were part of many of the communications satellites that followed.

MILSATCOM Architecture
In the early 1970’s, the US Department of Defense was satisfied with the benefits provided by satellite communications and set out to define and standardize a MILSATCOM architecture to foster the development of technology and programs to effectively meet military requirements. The first comprehensive MILSATCOM architecture was published in 1976 and still forms the foundation for US MILSATCOM activities. It has three segments: wideband, narrowband (mobile and tactical) and protected (or nuclear-capable). The intent of the activity was to create a common satellite system within each segment that could support a mix of users and programs.

As the name implies, this segment is primarily aimed at moderate to high-data rate applications. Wideband data rates are defined as greater than 64 kbps. The terminals are primarily fixed and transportable land-based with a few on large ships or aircraft. They may be point-to-point or networked systems at distances ranging from in-theater to intercontinental. Examples of wideband systems are the Defense Satellite Communication Systems (DSCS) series and the Global Broadcast Service (GBS) payload on the UHF Follow-On (UFO) satellite.

Small terminals with relatively low-gain antennas characterize users in the narrowband or mobile-and-tactical segment. These terminals have low to moderate date rates, the original definition being less than 64 kbps and may be located on aircraft, ships or land vehicles. With advances in technology, the data rate of this category is increasing and the cut-off between narrowband and wideband is blurring. These networks connect users at distances typically ranging from in-theater to transoceanic. Examples of narrowband systems are the Fleet Satellite Communications System, the Leasat program, and the UHF Follow-On (UFO) program.

The differentiator in this segment of the architecture is mobility. These terminals have very low to moderate data rates and may be used on ships, aircraft, or land vehicles. As a trade-off for the low data rates, these terminals offer considerable protection of their links against physical, nuclear, and electronic threats. Examples of the protected segment are the Milstar system and the Air Force Satellite Communications (AFSATCOM) and extremely high frequency (EHF) payloads.

Military Satellite Developments
avl ad msm 050610 Worldwide, many countries are transforming their military tactics by implementing more network-centric, information-based operational concepts. Improvements in communication capabilities have directly affected the outcomes of conflicts. Tactical use of MILSATCOM plays a pivotal role in providing the interoperable and robust network-centric communications needed for future operations whose needs are increasing dramatically. In the Desert Storm conflict of the early 1990’s, 542,000 troops occupied nearly 100 Mbps of MILSATCOM bandwidth. At the height of the Operation Iraqi Freedom conflict, some ten years later, there were 350,000 troops, but they consumed 3.2 Gbps of MILSATCOM bandwidth, an increase of more than 30x! A number of technology advances have enabled these increases in bandwidth.

Phased Array Antennas
Increasingly, communications satellites, for commercial and military uses, are being deployed with phased array antennas. This concept is the culmination of electromagnetic theories that have existed since the 1860’s with systems the result of efforts in WWII.

The fundamental idea relies on the principle of interference of radiated signals. This holds that electromagnetic waves from different sources will combine constructively only when the phase of the signals is identical. Anything less than identical phase will cause some amount of destructive interference, reducing the amplitude of the signal.

asif g2 msm 050610 Phased array antennas contain a number of radiating elements, all in the plane of the array face. The direction perpendicular to the array face is the bore sight and is the direction the beam points with no steering. To steer the beam off bore sight, some signals must travel a greater distance, destroying the identical phase relationship with other elements in the array. If a phase shifter is added into the transmit path of each element, its setting can be changed to ensure the proper phase relationship between antenna elements is maintained. When this occurs, the antenna beam steers off bore sight.

Phased arrays can be electronically scanned over their search volume very quickly. All the elements in the array may be used in conjunction to produce a very narrow, high-resolution beam, or a broader, lower resolution beam. In addition, the array elements can be driven in smaller groups to produce multiple beams.

There are two basic designations for electronically scanned arrays: passive and active. The phased array concepts are identical for both types, but the implementation is different, with the main difference being the transmit power source.

The acronym PESA stands for Passive Electronically Scanned Array. In this implementation, a single power source, composed of one or more TWTs, drives all the antenna elements. In this arrangement, the TWT will feed a beam-forming network that distributes the transmit power to the elements. The location of the phase-shifting element will determine the flexibility of the array.

If the phase shifter is between the beam-forming network and the antenna element, each element can be steered individually. If the phase shifter is located at the input of the beam-forming network, all the elements fed by that network will have the same phase relationship. While the individual elements cannot be controlled separately, the “element group” can be phased differently than other element groups. Ultimately, the trade-off is flexibility versus complexity.

PESA-based antenna systems are currently in use in communications satellites. Since the signal propagation theory is identical for both types of radar and the implementation is very similar, the primary decision criteria is how to generate the transmit power.

There are several attractive features inherent in a TWT-based PESA antenna system: bandwidth, peak-power and efficiency. In these areas, TWTs are clearly superior to any other type of amplifier.

While the advantages of TWTs will ensure they maintain a place in the MILSATCOM platform, the disadvantages of the approach have driven development of active arrays. Foremost among the disadvantages is the system architecture. In the PESA approach, the transmit power source is centralized. Depending on the power level, this may be a single TWT or a group of TWTs combined to increased power levels. A TWT is a tube-based device and operates by electron emission. This means there will be a certain failure when the tube’s filament can no longer supply electrons. In the best-case scenario, this life span is accurately calculated and the TWT lifespan matches the satellite lifespan. In the worst-case scenario, the TWT undergoes a complete failure. Depending on the system architecture, the entire antenna or a significant portion will also fail, severely compromising satellite performance. This and other concerns have led to the increased interest and development effort in the second type of electronically scanned array.

The second type of electronically scanned array is known as AESA. The acronym AESA stands for Active Electronically Scanned Array. In this implementation, each element is driven by a transmit/receive (T/R) module. These T/R modules contain solid-state MMICs, typically GaAs for the transmit/receive paths and silicon for the control functions. Similar to the PESA case, the location of the phase shifting element will determine the functionality and complexity of the array.

starling ad msm 050610 A typical T/R module contains discrete components, thermal management technology and several MMICs feeding a beam-forming network that feeds a radiating element. As the technology develops, more functionality will be incorporated into the MMICs and the number of MMICs will decrease. The modules come in ‘brick’ or ‘tile’ configurations. Bricks have the circuit board perpendicular to the plane of the array. Tiles, with the circuit board in the plane of the array, typically contain four T/R channels with various AESA functions, power distribution, RF distribution, timing and control, implemented in multi-layer circuit boards with layers for T/R modules and antenna radiators.

The MMICs in a T/R module include functions for low noise (receive), high power and driver (transmit) amplification, solid-state switching functions, phase shifting capabilities and a digital attenuator for control. Variable gain amplification is needed to enable antenna aperture weighting. The components are designed to have matched 50-Ohm inputs/outputs to avoid the need for special matching networks.

Current MMIC development effort focuses on low-noise figure receive amplifiers (LNAs) to improve system sensitivity, high power transmit amplifiers (PAs) with high power added efficiency (PAE) to reduce prime power and cooling requirements, integration of digital logic with other functions to reduce complexity and design for higher degrees of automation in assembly and test to reduce costs.

This approach, using many solid-state T/R modules, leverages the rapid development of the semiconductor industry and addresses many of the major issues of the TWT-based PESA approach. In this scenario, each T/R module is a self-contained RF transmit and receive path. The module contains a power amplifier for transmit, an LNA for receive and may contain a phase shifter for element steering. This approach means that the failure of any one module will only degrade the antenna performance slightly. This feature, coupled with the inherently higher MTBF levels of solid-state electronics, reduces the redundancy costs associated with AESA antennas.

about asif anwar msm 050610 While the AESA approach addresses many of the challenges inherent with PESA antennas, it is not without challenges of its own. The primary one may be cost. An AESA antenna may easily contain more than 1000 T/R modules. While this number is large in terms of military electronics requirements, it pales in comparison to commercial quantities This, coupled with potentially stringent space performance requirements, results in costly modules and antenna systems.

A second big concern is thermal management. With lower amplifier efficiency, solid-state arrays generate more heat than tube-based arrays for the same output power. While each module generates far less heat than a TWT, because of reduced power levels, there is still a concern about the distributed heating effect of all the modules.

Satellites have long development times and are very expensive. This, coupled with the fact that a communications network requires several satellites makes reducing cost a top priority.

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