How do we meet the Insatiable Need for Satellite Bandwidth in Asia?

Both the Defense Innovation Initiative, proposed in November 2014 by former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and the Council on Foreign Relations’ newly released report on our nation’s strategy towards China, reinforce the significance of the U.S. military’s pivot towards Asia.

As Doug Loverro, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, recently told the House Armed Services subcommittee, “… potential adversaries such as China must understand that if warfare extends to space, the U.S. will be prepared to defend our space assets.”

With the move, comes an increased need for the U.S. military to tap into satellite bandwidth from commercial providers. A major driver of this is the increased need for constant situational awareness and for “data at the edge.”

As highlighted in this recent C4ISR & Networks article (March edition, page 14), commercial providers have already helped support major tactical network programs like the Warfighter Information Network Tactical (WIN-T). However, the Asia pivot points to one significant tactical and communications challenge: limited amounts of commercial satellite bandwidth available to the Department of Defense (DoD).

This limited supply of global satellite capacity exists for several reasons. One is the large number of small national and regional service providers that currently serve the Asian satellite market, which discourages global operators from dedicating many satellites to the region.

Another is that satellites in this region cover mainly land masses serving consumer and business needs for content and data in highly populated areas. Lastly, and possibly even more important, the DoD has not defined its requirements for this region. So commercial satellite operators have focused more on commercial markets than government requirements.

“If the demand in the Pacific were to spike anything like what it did in Southwest Asia, it would be much, much harder for the commercial satellite industry to have that sort of capacity available overnight,” said Skot Butler, Vice President, Satellite Networks & Space Services at Intelsat General, in the C4ISR & Networks article.

Many in the DoD seem to believe that commercial bandwidth will be available wherever and whenever it is needed. Some even think of it as a just-in-time commodity that can be placed in service readily as has often been the case in other regions of conflict. However, the lack of incentives for the larger commercial providers to build out their capabilities in the Pacific region has resulted in limited capacity for the military to use in the near term.

Advanced planning through efforts like the DoD’s Wideband Analysis of Alternatives is imperative to ensuring capacity is available where and when it is needed. The DoD needs to make sure that the commercial operators it currently depends on are included in its future space architecture. This industry-government partnership is the best way we have to keep the capacity coming for the DoD, particularly in new areas of engagement like the Pacific.


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