German Military Open To Providing Satcom Capacity to NATO

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LONDON — The German military is ready to consider providing part of its national military telecommunications satellite capacity to the NATO alliance along the same lines as Britain, France and Italy, a German Defense Ministry official said.

German Air Force Lt. Col. Holger Lueschow said that after two years of operations of the two-satellite Satcom Bw system, and with new technologies available to squeeze more capacity from it, Germany “could offer a valuable resource to the NATO community.”

Germany’s first military communications satellites were launched in October 2009 and May 2010 — too late to be part of the NATO contract with Britain, France and Italy on use of these nations’ national systems by the 28-nation NATO alliance.

“We have been a little bit reluctant because we only started in 2009 and 2010,” Lueschow said here Nov. 26 during the Global Milsatcom conference organized by SMi Group. “We needed to learn how the system worked. Now it supports our troops in their deployments, and with DAMA and P-band we can offer” a service to NATO.

DAMA, or demand-assigned, multiple-access, is a technology to make bandwidth use more efficient by allocating it to users only when they need it. P-band refers to the fact that the two Satcom Bw satellites operate in that frequency along with X-band.

The two Satcom Bw satellites are located at 13 degrees and 63 degrees east in geostationary orbit. Each provides some 1.9 kilowatts of power to its payload and is designed to operate for 15 years. The X-band payload is capable of providing 170 megabits per second of throughput. In P-band, the satellites carry 10 channels at 25 kilohertz each.

Germany is continuing to use C- and Ku-band capacity under long-term leases from commercial fleet operator Intelsat of Luxembourg and Washington, on satellites located at 27.5 degrees west, 34.5 degrees west and 66 degrees east.

Lueschow said more than 500 deployable ground stations operating in C-, X- and Ku-band are now operational, along with more than 200 P-band satellite radios. The German military also uses some 3,000 portable devices using L-band connections to Iridium and Inmarsat satellites, he said.

In addition to these assets, the German Defense Ministry is likely to add its own payload to the Heinrich Hertz telecommunications demonstration satellite planned by Germany’s space agency, DLR.

Heinrich Hertz has not yet been given final go-ahead budget authority but DLR and other German officials say the program is almost certain to be realized. It will use the Small-Geo satellite bus being built by OHB AG of Bremen, Germany. DLR has said it could be launched in 2017.

DLR has offered German defense forces the opportunity to place a hosted payload on Heinrich Hertz. Lueschow said a Ku-band payload is a likely choice, and that a Ka-band payload may also be put on Heinrich Hertz for German military use.

He said a decision on participation in Heinrich Hertz would be made by October 2013.

“One major driver for us in our decision-making is cost,” Lueschow said. “We are cost-driven and we see Heinrich Hertz as an affordable option giving us the best value we can get. This will allow us to have Ku-band capacity of our own, with antennas pointed where we wish, without having to ask [a commercial] operator. But we will still maintain our leased capacity.”

Much of the future demand for satellite capacity will come from unmanned aerial systems (UAS), whose appetite for bandwidth will force Satcom Bw managers to adopt technologies to maximize system throughput.

“This is a challenge for the future,” Lueschow said. “There are regulatory issues to be addressed, but UAS will be the future. Military missions without UAS are unthinkable today.”

He said German access to 37 degrees west might not be sustainable because there are no plans to use the reserved frequencies. Ultimately, unused frequencies are returned to the general pool to be made available for whoever else has registered for them.