by Andrea Maléter
Broadband Communications-On-The-Move Drives Military Satellite Services Worldwide
In recent years defense organizations around the world, led by the U.S. DOD, have been pursuing the means to achieve net-centric warfare, in other words a fully interconnected battlespace with all forces communicating on an integrated, IP-based network. Net-centricity requires seamless communications, and thus the search for ways to increase the speed, bandwidth and power of communications across the battlespace, from ground to air and back, has driven R&D and implementation budgets for true broadband on-the-move capabilities.
The resulting expanded technology developments have increasingly made it possible for enhanced battlefield information to be communicated with or retrieved from a full range of moving platforms including individual warfighters, unmanned sensors (UAVs), and combat vehicles/vessels/aircraft. These command and control systems, when integrated with broadband satellite capabilities, enable seamless communication of voice, email, text, imagery and other data key to enhancing situational awareness and decision-making, thus providing soldier-system interoperability and, in turn, net-centricity.
While much attention has been focused on the big-ticket items in the sky the U.S. WGS and TSAT satellite programs in particular the real drivers of service growth will be the funding of specific applications and programs to build and deploy aircraft, tanks and other vehicles equipped to operate with those satellites. While these programs do not individually have the size, scope or impact to generate extensive publicity, their funding is key to the actual use of WGS, TSAT or other technologies.
Key to implementation of such systems has been advanced satellite and antenna technology supporting transmissions while in motion using the higher-bandwidth capabilities of Ku/Ka/X-Band, rather than the more limited capabilities of lower-frequencies used by radio or even L-band satellites which dominate the maritime market.
From the perspective of the DoD, all of these programs are part of the Global Information Grid (GIG), the concept of providing full IP-based connectivity for operations including virtually all combatant commands and services. For the Army the core program within the GIG is LandWarNet, for the Air Force it is C2 Constellation, and the Navy has FORCENet.
Each of these intersects across the Combatant Commands, and mobile broadband is key to them all. Starting with Special Operations use of UAVs and COTM terminals, plus Transcomm operation of VIP aircraft, expanded programs include Army and Marine use of the COTM terminals with Mounted Battle Command on the Move (MBCOTM) capabilities that unfetter commanders from the command post and will lead to future secure wireless LAN and Land Warrior and UAV deployments.
As discussed below, these programs are being deployed as well by multiple other countries, and their evolution continues with new solutions, platforms and user terminals, with different needs and approaches for three key areas: piloted aircraft, UAV, and ground mobile markets. The drivers and bands used are summarized in the following table...
Each of these markets is currently dominated by U.S. military procurements, and in each case, growth is tied to the deployment of specific groups of platforms (aircraft, vehicles, wearable systems). However, looking forward past 2011, as new platforms are acquired and deployed, Europe (NATO and otherwise) is expected to be a major market, as are key countries in Asia.
Higher and Faster...
While the somewhat erratic history of broadband services on commercial aircraft has received more press, military communications with airborne platforms have continued to evolve and expand for both piloted aircraft and UAVs. In fact, it has been the success of these systems that is partially supporting the apparent readiness of the airborne broadband communications market to move from a predominantly military business to one with a large civil government base, and now back into the commercial realm.
The volumes of piloted airborne platforms may not be as high as those for UAVs, but they are moving to higher growth rates as a result of new procurement cycles around the world. As countries pursue new military aircraft programs, or plan upgrades of existing programs, they are choosing to incorporate enhanced communications systems. The key drivers of this market are the availability of smaller, lighter, streamlined and stabilized antennas, along with the growth in programs for strategic platforms such as those for extended VIP transport, medical/evacuation transport, and advanced tactical or special operations activities.
In addition to defense organizations, civil government users increasingly are demanding access to broadband in their aircraft. These include everything from emergency response helicopters to transport aircraft to smaller planes carrying government officials, each of which has requirements for access to email, Internet, imagery and other broadband capabilities.
In the non-piloted area, UAV demand for satellite bandwidth has been well-established, largely due to the high-profile platforms such as the Predator and Global Hawk, each of which can use a full transponder of Ku-Band capacity. But a wide range of platforms are being deployed with the need for broadband communications to support enhanced imagery and other sensor capabilities as well as expanded soldier-system interoperability programs which require direct communication of sensor data to the warfighter. These needs are expected to grow with anticipated increase in UAV deployments to replace troops on the ground in key theaters of operation. As the flying sensors take to the skies the data they collect is increasingly required to be transmitted directly to individual warfighters who must decide how to act on the intelligence collected, and themselves transmit orders to others.
Given their even tighter constraints than those of piloted aircraft, UAV-based communications are especially focused on the availablity of smaller, lighter, stabilized antennas. Developments in this regard have been taking place in a number of countries, as part of the tremendous expansion of international UAV programs. While the U.S. currently produces about half of the UAVs in service, there are now more than 30 countries producing UAVs of various sizes and capabilities. While only a small percentage of these drones requires broadband communications, this is clearly an area that will grow in the future with new developments in sensor capabilities, and expanded deployments.
Overall, U.S. markets represent the vast majority of all airborne broadband satellite communications demand in the next three to five years. A steady market is anticipated to develop in Europe, however, as multiple countries push forward with interoperable air communications and multinational coordination, with some of these procurements being NATO-based and others nation-specific.
Faster and Stronger...
Land Mobile Broadband
In contrast to the piloted airborne and UAV markets, where operations are clearly mobile, the ground-mobile market is more complex. COTM covers a wide range of applications including: Command and Control, which tends to be asymmetrical with most bandwidth to the remote terminal; and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), where data is generated on the remote platform, so while also asymmetrical, most bandwidth is from the remote terminal.
The biggest issues for implementation and growth of COTM services include: interference and regulatory compliance; limited power from satellite beams that may have been designed for larger antennas; limited bandwidth; and the need for terminals to operate across multiple platforms on the ground, sea, or in the air.
While there has been a lot of discussion about communications on the move, and the deployment of vehicles equipped with satellite antennas, most of these programs to date including the Joint Network Node (JNN) which has fielded large numbers of terminals have actually been communications on the pause or on the quick-halt, not truly on-the-move.
Most of the on-the-move terminals now in operation are at L-band and UHF, on Inmarsat and Iridium in particular. Given the limitations of the frequency bands at which they operate, the services on these systems do not currently meet the 1Mb or greater speeds usually associated with the term broadband. True broadband maritime mobile services are, however, starting to grow with availability of Ku/Ka/X-band on WGS, XTAR, and other commercial satellites and new U.S. Navy program requirements.
For the ground based systems within MBCOTM, new programs such as WIN-T are adding true on-the-move requirements. The use of smaller, lighter stabilized antennas is driving this, in conjunction with both commercial Ku/Ka/X-Band capacity and the newly available WGS capacity. Particularly interesting here is the development of expanded soldier-system interoperability programs such as the Landwarrior and Integrated Soldier systems of U.S., U.K., Canada, France, Spain, and other nations that connect individual warfighters to unit vehicles and back into field or headquarters command centers. Part of the concept of net-centricity is the interconnection of these individuals and vehicles with the newly enhanced UAVs, incorporating sensor fusion technology to provide full situational awareness as well as communications capabilities..
Currently, the most concrete opportunities derives from U.S. customers, but there is significant on-going procurement of ground-based platforms by NATO, individual European nations, Japan and other countries. Much of the potential for COTM is beyond the next few years post 2012 as countries adopt new technology into their procurement and refurbishment programs.
Like The Olympics,
This Is A Global Event
As noted above, while the U.S. military is leading many of these programs, and currently dominates the market, there are extensive programs now in development around the world for airborne as well as ground-based mobile broadband Ku/Ka/X-Band satellite communications. Key markets in other parts of the world, and their drivers are summarized below.
Europe European military procurement programs have three separate but interconnected components: individual national programs, programs of the European Defense Agency (EDA), and NATO programs. This complex structure means that planning and procurement of new military platforms and associated communications systems is fragmented by country and organization. Decisions to budget for new programs must be negotiated within a government, a process that often adds delay. Nevertheless, as an aggregate market for both airborne and ground-mobile broadband communications Europe is expected to surpass the U.S. While slow but steady growth is expected in the next 10-years, the current budget shortfalls in some key countries may slow the rate of expansion in the near-term, especially given the need to decide which budget will be used for each program.
Adding to the strength of the European participation in these markets is the fact that key aircraft, UAV and ground equipment programs are based in Europe, in addition to some major spacecraft programs such as Skynet and Syracuse. The companies involved in these programs can leverage not only their intra-European contracts, but also their work for other nations, to support future research and development activities. In fact, the recent reductions in European programs, coupled with greater program collaboration, are likely to push European competitors to be more aggressive in seeking U.S. and other military business
Asia While China is widely seen as having the largest military program in the region, it is a closed system, and is not discussed here. Japan, on the other hand, has increased its role, and is now adding military activities to its space policy programs. Japans relatively light but advanced airborne force is expected to evolve in the coming years, and impose greater demand for advanced air communications. Medical evacuation platforms like the Black Hawk or command-and-control platforms like the E-767, are particularly likely to need broadband capabilities. On the ground side, as Japans stable numbers of ground forces phase out old technologies in favor of new, a small but growing COTM target market is expected to evolve in the 2013 to 2017 time frame,
Australia has taken a high-visibility role in the broadband satellite world through its decision to partially fund one of the future WGS spacecraft. To leverage this in-space capability, Australias relatively small aggregate airborne platform base is likely to increase. This base currently consists primarily of VIP transport platforms. At the same time, Australian ground forces demand for COTM is likely to grow in demand, again, in part, to leverage their WGS capabilities. This business is limited in the near-term by the small size of the market and limited diversity of military ground vehicles and applications.
India presents a very different picture, and as it continues to modernize its air force, demand for advanced airborne communications will increase, in particular as a result of procurement of special operations air platforms. India is also expanding its spacecraft developments, further supporting the growth of all broadband communications capabilities. And while its sheer number of vehicles makes Indias ground forces one of the largest single-country markets for COTM larger even than the U.S. advanced applications may not be Indias main focus, limiting growth in new program implementation.
South Korean demand for airborne communications is also expected to remain steady over the next decade, but remain limited by the lack of advanced new communications applications. At the same time, with numerous forces deployed along the demilitarized zone, South Korean ground COTM demand is likely to grow rapidly, with modernizing applications driving expansion post-2015.
New Challengers Will Certainly Appear
Just as new satellite technologies will make more bandwidth available to more users, and new technologies in antenna design and waveforms will increase the number of platforms that can incorporate satellite services, so too new applications will certainly be designed to take advantage of all that technology. One of the uncertainties for the future is where those technologies and applications will be developed and deployed first. Just as in athletics, there may be surprising outcomes as a result of who decides to invest to go faster, higher or stronger.
About the author
Andrea Maléter, Futron Technical Director, has over 30 years experience in global satellite and telecommunications industry sales, marketing, regulatory and policy management. She has provided decision support advice to space and telecommunications companies and government agencies, and has assisted in developing new commercial applications, regulatory and business strategies. Prior to Futron, she was a consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and before that held management positions at INTELSAT and COMSAT.