Commercial satellites are always ready to support the soldier, the pilot, the seaman with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as Global Positioning System data to paint a picture of the enemy and of assets available to defeat it.
“You can use space to find targets, analyze movement and do all this litany of stuff that you only dreamt about when you watched the Discovery Channel as a kid. It’s pretty amazing,” said Maj. Matthew Orlosky, an A-10 pilot, in a recent Space Command video.
But soldiers need time away from war, and commercial SATCOM is also there to aid in physical and mental recovery with telephone, instant messaging, email, Facebook and other social media connections to friends and family. Keeping up with events away from the battlefield, as well as other leisure activities require SATCOM. Where once communications from the front involved letters that took weeks and months in transit, satellite-aided transmissions are instantaneous.
That capability has changed the way the warrior lives in a war zone. The Pentagon long resisted uncontrolled Internet access to the warfighter but has come to understand that before donning a uniform, soldiers were civilians who used smartphones as part of their daily lives. They see no reason that should change in a war zone.
Once it understood that paradigm, the military relaxed restrictions and instead aided in social communications as part of Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs. Soldiers have been able to use MWR buildings constructed in Forward Operating Bases in Iraq and Afghanistan to keep up with the ball scores, take online college classes, monitor bank accounts and play video games, all under an umbrella of commercial SATCOM.
The desire to stay in the family loop moves with the warfighter to remote locations around the world. Commercial SATCOM is global, making it the most reliable means to guarantee that link back home.
Through technology such as Skype, the warfighter is able to see children born, grow up, monitor their development, celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and help solve family problems, even from half a world away.
Also, “close relationships with civilians help the American public understand our Army, and it allows our soldiers to understand the society they serve,” writes Army aviator Crispin Burke in a September 21 blogpost in Defense One. “Most importantly, it opens soldiers to contrary viewpoints.”
One of the most important relationships a soldier has is with the person next to him or her under fire. They have a responsibility for each other that doesn’t end when it’s time to go home or to the next duty station.
“Soldiers are bonding and keeping in touch with one another through their smartphones,” Burke wrote. “They share links on Facebook and send each other messages on Snapchat,” all with the help of commercial SATCOM.
That bond continues with friendships earned throughout a military career of packing and unpacking. “We spent the first 18 years of our lives as civilians, and after a 20-year military career, we’ll be civilians again,” he wrote. “Social media can make that transition much easier as we reintegrate with our civilian friends while staying in touch with our friends-in-arms.”
As the holiday season begins, commercial SATCOM will be there to help the military through a difficult time of being away from family and friends. It’s a 24-hour-a-day task, but satellites don’t sleep – in war zones, or away from them.
Intelsat alone flies 75 satellites using a network of some 550 ground antennas at 30 locations worldwide, with about 100 people—including all bus and payload operations and engineering — but less than ten of these per shift are satellite controllers.