New technologies and new strategic imperatives are fueling accelerated demand for satellite bandwidth. This requirement is growing rapidly not just for the Defense Department (DoD), but for governments all across the globe as well.
Recently two industry publications discussed developments fueling this demand, and how satellite capabilities are fast becoming a barometer of national strength. In the first article from Talk Satellite, Northern Sky Research analyst Prateep Basu looks at geopolitical tensions driving increased use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).
On the U.S. DoD front, he points to the recent announcements of the highly advanced, stealth USAF RQ-180 program and the on-going success of ISR-directed airstrikes in war-torn countries such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The Chinese are aggressively developing a drone program, and Allied nations are lining up to purchase U.S.-made High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UASs.
All this demand is a huge opportunity for commercial satellite operators, since government networks cannot come close to delivering the required bandwidth:
“The explosive growth expected in the HALE and MALE UAS market translates into a major role for commercial satellite operators to play. As the past decade has shown, satellite bandwidth for UAS operations is a critical resource that government satellite programs alone cannot provide … with FSS Ku-band leading the way due to the high latency on the governmental front in overhauling the existing UAS designs and existing ground systems, which primarily make use of this frequency band.”
A piece published in Global Military Communications magazine highlights another factor driving satellite bandwidth requirements. (No direct online link, but you can register for free access here.) The increased importance and reliance on special operations around the world is driving ISR-related bandwidth requirements ever higher.
GMC published a Q&A with Dean Betzer, U.S. Special Operations Command, Communications Systems Operations Deputy Director, who spoke on the specific communications needs involved with special operations.
Due to the essential nature of special operations, its portability, reliability and ease of use are critical. These types of operations simply aren’t possible without ISR superiority, supported by satellite capacity that can cover the entire globe. The commercial sector has supported this mission for more than a decade and understands the users, the requirements and how to ensure satellite’s vital role.
Betzer spoke specifically about the critical role of satellite communications:
“Satellite communications play a large role in the communication portfolio of SOCOM. This is partly due to the nature of missions often executed in austere environments, as well as the ability of satellite communications to be pre-provisioned and available for use over disparate geographical regions.”
Betzer also says that as C4ISR needs have increased, so has the importance of efficient data transfer across open (not proprietary) systems, which is something commercial satellite bandwidth does very well. He also spoke about how industry can support the warfighter by maintaining the pace of innovation and continually making satellite technology more efficient.
Similarly to analyst Basu’s article, the GMC piece also spoke about nations viewing satcom capacity as a national security resource that could potentially bring down an entire country. GMC specifically cited Iran jamming the Persian language channels of the Voice of America and the BBC to isolate the Iranian people. Jamming and malicious interference will increasingly continue and create more serious issues like the one just cited as governments move forward in deploying space capabilities. Fortunately, new commercial High-Throughput Satellite (HTS) systems like Intelsat EpicNG will include enhanced protections against such hostile actions.
We’ve spoken previously about how satcom needs have an inverse relationship to boots on the ground. It’s become increasingly clear that statement doesn’t go far enough. All countries – friend and potential foe alike – are furiously working to enhance their capabilities in space. This virtually ensures that SATCOM requirements will only continue going in one direction – full throttle forward – for the foreseeable future.