DoD Takes ‘Strategic Pause’ as Distinctions Between Military and Civilian Comsats Blur

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LONDON —The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is taking a “strategic pause” to determine where to go in its next-generation military satellite communications at a time when the frontier between what is military and what is civil/commercial has been blurred almost beyond distinction, government and military officials said.

Whereas it used to be clear that some frequencies were all-military and some not, the recent incursion into military Ka-band, X-band and UHF-band frequencies by commercial operators has made it difficult to maintain the distinction.

Some systems, such as the Mobile User Objective System, Advanced Extremely High Frequency and Wideband Global constellations, retain an all-military coloration. But Intelsat’s decision to place a UHF-band payload on the IS-22 commercial satellite over the Pacific, and Canada-based Telesat’s move to put an X-band payload on its Anik G1 satellite, also with Pacific coverage, are two examples of the commercial sector moving into a military realm.

Similarly, London-based Inmarsat’s all-Ka-band Global Xpress satellites, due to be launched starting in December, include a military-Ka-band payload designed for governments but owned and operated by Inmarsat.

Inmarsat officials said their military-Ka-band High-Capacity Overlay will be available to all NATO nations plus Australia and New Zealand.

Astrium Services’ ownership — until 2022 — of Britain’s Skynet 5 X-band telecommunications satellites is part of a contract in which Astrium purposely dimensioned the satellites to sell excess capacity to other British allies in addition to Astrium’s anchor customer, the British Defence Ministry.

Xtar LLC of the United States owns capacity on Spanish military telecommunications satellites, also in X-band, under a similar contract that allowed Xtar and its partner, Hisdesat of Spain, to market additional capacity to other nations.

The U.S. Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) constellation, in military Ka-band, is an all-military system owned by the United States, with equity stakes purchased by several other nations. But Inmarsat’s Global Xpress has been made interoperable with WGS, as has the United Arab Emirates’ Yahsat Ka-band system, which is in orbit.

Cobham/SN Graphic

The French-Italian Athena-Fidus Ka-band satellite, which will employ civil and military Ka-band and is being financed by civil and military authorities, is being made interoperable with the Inmarsat Global Xpress military capacity, said Renaud Vogelensen-Delpech of Astrium Services.

Astrium’s 17-year Comcept contract with the French Defense Ministry is designed to permit French troops to move easily among Global Xpress, Athena-Fidus and commercial C- and Ku-band satellites.

Paris-based Eutelsat, whose Ka-Sat Ka-band satellite was built to bridge the digital divide in Europe by providing connectivity to rural communities, has already booked at least one military customer, according to Jean-Francois Bureau, Eutelsat’s director of institutional and international affairs.

Bureau said Eutelsat’s 8WB satellite, scheduled for launch over the Middle East in 2015, will feature an anti-jamming technology developed by satellite manufacturer Thales Alenia Space using technologies financed in part by the 20-nation European Space Agency, a civilian organization.

Bureau said an intelligent investment in ground networks could make it easier for military users to move between military and civil Ka-band in the event one or the other were jammed or saturated in a given operational theater.

 

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