U.S. Air Force Wideband Global Satcom communications satellite. Credit: Boeing artist's concept

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Air Force has awarded contracts worth a total of $110 million to Raytheon, L-3 and ViaSat to demonstrate that the Defense Department’s protected tactical waveform works with new modems and with military and commercial satellites.

The Pentagon announced the contracts Aug. 11. The technology is expected to help guard against jamming of communications satellites, which is becoming an increasing problem for the Air Force.

The field demonstrations will run through 2020, the Defense Department said. The contracts include $39 million for Raytheon, $38 million for L-3 and $33 million for ViaSat. The three companies had worked on previous demonstrations of the waveform. The Air Force received five bids for the contracts.

Facing rising demand for satellite bandwidth and a growing problem with signal jamming, the Air Force has funded a series of tests and demonstrations to evaluate alternatives for dramatically lowering the cost of delivering secure services via both commercial and military satellites. Although the Air Force operates a highly secure satellite system, dubbed Advanced Extremely High Frequency, most military communications traffic is handled by the Air Force’s Wideband Global Satcom and commercial satellite systems, both of which are vulnerable to jamming.

“Existing unprotected terminals could achieve a good level of protection over the same satellites they use today by swapping out their current modem with a PTW modem,” the Aerospace Corp. wrote in 2014. “Technically, one could put a PTW modem in a wideband terminal or commercial terminal and enable the use of PTW, and its associated protection, over a wideband or commercial satellite.”

The Air Force hopes to demonstrate the transmission of the protected waveform using production-representative terminals via both WGS and commercial satellites, service officials have said.

In a 2015 posting to the Federal Business Opportunities website, the Air Force said the modems will be expected to work on a plug-and-play basis with six commonly used Defense Department satellite terminals. Those terminals include: the Navy Multiband Terminal; three Army terminals including the Warfighter Information Network — Tactical Point of Presence, or WIN-T; the Air Force’s Ground Multiband Terminal; along with an airborne wideband test terminal.

The Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, which acquires the majority of the Air Force’s space hardware, said earlier this year the PTW demonstration was one of its major acquisitions for 2016.

Mike Gruss covers military space issues, including the U.S. Air Force and Missile Defense Agency, for SpaceNews. He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.