Rise of UAVs Offers New Opportunities for Commercial Satellite Providers

With sequestration looming and troops drawing down in both Afghanistan and Iraq, our nation’s government will be relying more on unmanned vehicles (UAVs) for cost-effective surveillance and real-time intelligence. There is an emerging, inverse relationship between the number of boots on the ground and drones in the air. 

Many commercial builders of unmanned drones, as well as satellite companies, are expecting to help the government meet this expanded need for unmanned surveillance.  Due to bandwidth challenges on U.S. government satellites and many drones already using commercial satellite transponders, commercial SATCOM is an ideal solution for government and military. 

In addition, Kay Sears, President of Intelsat General, recently told the Washington Post that satellite communications needed for unmanned aircraft would be a natural fit for commercial satellite businesses.  

Commercial SATCOM is a critical enabler of UAV operations:

·        It provides a link for command and control, as well as imagery backhaul and dissemination.

·        Sophisticated suites of sensors and the increasing number of UAVs underscores the need for having the right SATCOM solutions meeting demand.

·        Advanced satellite payloads are needed to provide appropriate tradeoffs in coverage, connectivity, and throughput to meet UAV mission requirements.

·        Key commercial providers already have extensive experience in UAV operations.

As a major provider of Ku-band capacity to support command and control and reachback of UAVs, Intelsat General is an organization poised to meet this growing need. Intelsat General has been supporting UAV missions since the nascent days of 2004 and it currently provides more than 950 MHz of bandwidth, supporting about 70 UAV missions.

In addition, as drones have the capability to capture thousands upon thousand of hours of video footage, as well as now having wider footprint beams for increasing areas of coverage, bandwidth management is critical.  Commercial SATCOM providers can meet this need through advances in modulation, coding and compression for more efficient and cost effective access to space assets.

With the government being tasked with doing more with less, UAVs will continue to be a method for meeting mission needs at home and abroad.  Whether it is for enabling the warfighter or for guarding our borders, unmanned surveillance is coming into a renaissance-like era. Commercial providers will be the backbone for meeting this increased SATCOM need.