Military Counsels Patience While Industry Shows Action

bandwidth requirements

Intelsat EpicNG HTS satellite

Antony Allen Vraa sounded the alarm for a shortfall in bandwidth needed for the U.S. military, then added why the alarm can’t be answered any time soon. Vraa, wideband satellite communications subject matter expert for the Joint Staff J6, which serves the Chairman in the development of C4 capability requirements, outlined the growing need at the Global Milsatcom Conference in London, according to a November 10 article in Space News.

Requirements, spurred appreciably by airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance demands, are expected to increase by at least 68 percent, from today’s 19 gigabits per second to 32 gigabits in 2025. The money to buy it from commercial sources is not expected to increase proportionately.

“So we have a huge gap,” Vraa said. “We’re actually running at the red line right now. We’re going to reach that gap sooner (than expected).” Add to that the aging U.S. Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) constellation, and the problem becomes even more acute.

Vraa said industry and allies must be patient because of the often decade-long process from demonstrated need to funded solution. He used a slide of a sausage grinder to push home the point.

In a keynote address at the conference, Intelsat General Corp. President Skot Butler offered a state-of-the-technology solution to address state-of-the-industry operational challenges.

“… Outside of a nuclear-hardened strategic capability, commercial demands and government/military demands may very well be converging,” Butler said. “Flexibility, capacity and capability will continue to rapidly increase in the commercial world. Decadal government satellite programs simply aren’t agile or flexible enough to match that pace of innovation. We are honored to support defense and other government needs, and we will continue to do so, but industry is not sitting still.”

He used the development and deployment of Intelsat’s EpicNG High-Throughput Satellite (HTS) constellation as a demonstration of rapid technology evolution. Two satellites are aloft now, with three more scheduled for 2017 and two more after that. The two currently flying, Intelsat 29e and 33e, effectively doubled the capability of their 50 preceding Intelsat brethren in one year, from 100 GHz to 200-plus, Butler said.

He also shared an example of how industry is “baking in” flexibility to take advantage of evolving technology. “There is no single Epic design, and this is part of our open architecture.”

Before the first Intelsat EpicNG was built, Intelsat and its Intelsat General Corp. subsidiary had to answer several questions about customers’ needs for now and in the future, much as the military is doing with its wideband Analysis of Alternatives. An example: How to meet requirements for high definition full motion video on ISR aircraft. “We certainly have ISR customers who have told us that, for today, their mission profile is accommodated with widebeams, and it will be for another year or two,” Butler said. “(But) when their platforms are upgraded, they will need the higher performance of HTS.”

Solutions are hardly limited to challenges of the military. Butler outlined case studies of IGC solving requirements of commercial customers with EpicNG capabilities after determining what tradeoffs were necessary to do so. “The answer is, there is no simple answer,” Butler said. “Every requirement involves trades. Walk through all aspects of your specific requirements with a knowledgeable satellite communications expert and consider what trades are needed.”

It’s what the military is doing now in its consideration of current and future communications satellite needs that could be met by the commercial satellite industry. That walk is being conducted among uncertain funding by Congress amid an administration change that could bring new priorities.

“I know you commercial operators hate that, because you cannot plan for it,” Vraa said.

He’s right, but industry is hardly waiting for a signal from the military in advancing technology.

“High Throughput Satellites like EpicNG … are just the start of this new era of commercial satellite communications,” Butler said.

It’s an era the military should avail itself of for a brighter and more secure future.