LOS ANGELES — The Air Force announced Dec. 6 it awarded L3Harris and Northrop Grumman $17.9 million and $9.9 million contracts, respectively, to integrate commercial space internet services on military aircraft.

The contracts are the latest awarded under a project called Defense Experimentation Using the Commercial Space Internet (DEUCSI) led by the Air Force Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation office at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

The Air Force has signed several contracts over the past year to test the use of commercial space broadband aboard military platforms and assess the performance of different types of services, including those from new constellations being developed in low Earth orbit.

The DEUCSI experiments are not just to ensure the satellites can talk to airplanes but also to figure out how the military would buy these services long term, officials said. Defense contractors like L3Harris, Northrop Grumman, Ball Aerospace and Lockheed Martin were signed on to help solve integration issues associated with bringing commercial networks into military equipment.

L3Harris and Northrop Grumman received three-year contracts to “establish the ability to communicate with Air Force platforms via multiple commercial space internet constellations using common user terminal hardware elements,” the Air Force said in a Dec. 6 news release.

So far the Air Force has signed deals with SpaceX’s Starlink, Iridium, OneWeb, Telesat and SES’s O3B to test the services.

The Air Force in the coming months plans to install Starlink terminals on an AC-130 gunship aircraft and a KC-135 aerial refueling tanker.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...