Military satellites typically operate in the UHF, X-band or Ka-band frequency bands. The most common missions for these satellites are intelligence gathering, navigation and military communications. There are approximately 1,100 active satellites in space, both government and private. It is not entirely possible to identify the exact number of military satellites from these, partly due to secrecy and partly due to some satellites serving dual purpose missions such as GPS satellites that operate for both civilian and military purposes.
The military sector was the first to use satellite communications and there will always be a need for the technology within the sector, even in the event that satellite becomes less needed elsewhere. This is due to the nature of the military’s tasks and operations.
Koen Willems, Market Director, Government, Defense and Mobility Satcom at Newtec says: “Whenever troops are deployed, they are sent into areas where terrestrial communication is not always available in remote regions; is not secure due to the incumbent telecom operators or is destroyed. The first infrastructures to go down in times of conflict or after a disaster are the terrestrial communication lines. As such, satellite communications becomes the
After the expensive and long interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, world leaders are reluctant to send in “boots on the ground” to resolve the numerous conflicts. The types of intervention by coalition forces, Departments of Defence (DoDs) and international peacekeeping organisations have changed drastically over the last couple of years. The operations have become leaner, shorter in timeframe, in an international context and with fewer troops involved. A national defense organisation is not always sure where it will need to deploy an operation next and it has to be prepared for deployment anywhere in the world in the near future, according to Willems.
Hence, he says, satellite gives DoDs a lot of flexibility. “With the right choice of satellite constellation and ground
satcom technology, DoDs can connect to theatres, operations or assets on land, air and sea anywhere in the world. Moreover, when a quick reaction is required, it can quickly deploy the required units to the crisis area and provide the necessary support services.”
Henrik Norrelykke, VP, Land and Mobile, Cobham SATCOM adds: “Satellite has always played a vital role as far as beyond-line-of-sight communications goes. Satellite has differentiated itself from other means of communications especially in its inherent support of IP data in conjunction with voice communications.”
With that in mind, encryption is certainly key for military operations. However, Jean Claude Veillon, VP Telecom Solutions Marketing for Thales Alenia Space says that simply to protect information is not the only requirement that needs to be taken into account. The security of an information system is achieved by the combination of several techniques.
“INFOSEC is addressed through the encryption of information meant to protect data, transform red data into black, before accessing the modem at the application level; COMSEC is achieved by encrypting the communication channel, modem to modem at the IP level; and TRANSEC is achieved by encrypting the transmission layer, from modem to modem at radio level.
“On top of such network safekeeping requirements and in order to fully complement the protection of information sharing between the vital functions of a MILSATCOM system, it is absolutely mandatory to protect under a cyber-aspect, the satellite at the level of the mission and the networks control centre by securing its access against any attempt of intrusion or any other kind of cyber-attack,” explains Veillon.
Veillon iterates that whatever the situation, the link between two MILSATCOM users is mandatory. This explains why the above mentioned techniques are required for MILSATCOM and GOVSATCOM systems especially for anti-jamming on-board antennas and modems on the ground. This is generally called the ‘protected core’ of the MILSATCOM system.
The encryption and VPN tunneling of the information can already happen before it is exchanged over satellite. The satellite communication pipe itself will be secured by the encryption of the baseband frames or by spreading the satellite signal.
Willems says that using dedicated military satellite frequencies and satellite constellations will add to protection of information that needs to be secured. Typical technologies that are used for these military applications are AES encryption and TRANSEC technologies that are built inside the satellite modems or used as an external device.
Next to the security aspect, there are other factors that make communications and data transfers in the military sector different. Firstly, there are multiple applications like logistics, administration and tactical. Then there are services like Internet access, e-mail, video conferencing and surveillance. Lastly there are traffic types like video, voice and data that need to be addressed in a satellite network for a single operation.
“The importance of Intelligence, Security and Recognition applications (ISR) within military operations has increased substantially. The ISR platforms including UAVs, planes, land and sea assets, typically use bandwidth-hungry sensor technology. The large amount of collected data and video needs to be relayed from the ISR platform back to the strategic headquarters. Finally, the service availability plays a major role in the satellite network. Mission critical data needs to be communicated even in harsh fading circumstances like rain, dust and shadowing effects in order not to endanger the operations at hand or cause the wrong decision to be made.
“In all these scenarios there is no room any longer for traditional VSAT systems. The VSAT platform today needs to be multi-purpose, multi-service and allow global connectivity. Multiple services and applications should run over the same infrastructure to the different operations around the world. Moreover the network needs to support a variety of video, data and voice traffic from a few kilobits to a tenfold of megabits in an efficient way; both from the hub to the terminals in the theatre and vice versa. Depending on the type of traffic different return waveforms can be addressed,” says Willems.
With shrinking military budgets things are quickly changing according to Norrelykke. “Over the past decade the military sector has gone from almost exclusively using proprietary satellite network technology to largely taking advantage of available Commercial-Of-The-Shelf (COTS) equipment and networks used in addition to military only networks. It has also stimulated the build-up of advanced commercial networks designed to effectively serve military applications.”
Growing data, voice and video communications also result in the need for additional satellite bandwidth. HTS might be the best solution yet. Military command could usually use HTS solutions in a complementary capacity compared to the one provided by the protected core MILSATCOM, to serve welfare and non-strategic military applications. Veillon explains that when it comes to questioning the validity of multi-spots solutions when planning a deployment scheme, a multi-spot offer will have to take into account generic military requirement such as flexibility in terms of capacity, the space resources available on the multi-spot coverage need to be flexible to deliver capacity when and where needed. At a system level, the link between the end user and military gateways is also an important consideration of the system design phase. Next protection is important. When planning the availability of space resources, a possible jamming strike needs to be taken into account.
HTS multi-port solutions will therefore have to either implement flexibility and protection/resilience functions, or be merely retained as a complementary resource alternatively to the protected and resilient MILSATCOM Core.
Willem says: “The launch of new commercial (EPIC, Global Xpress) and military (WGS) High Throughput Satellite constellations will certainly help DoDs around the world to solve some of difficulties they face concerning growing data requirements and global connectivity. The price of the megabits will also come down which is good news for military budgets. When satellite operators and ground segment satcom technology providers work closely together they can squeeze maximum efficiency out of the HTS satellite links that will allow military network operators to transport more data in the same satellite bandwidth at maximum service availability.
“Although HTS has many upsides there are some considerations that need to be taken into account for military networks. The ground infrastructure will become more complex with different gateways to manage the multiple spot beams, resulting in increased CAPEX costs. The service availability can also cause trouble, especially in Ka-band spot beams, if the right technology is not selected to counter deep fading situations. When operations move across different satellite spot beams like COTM, technology needs to be put in place to allow easy roaming and beam switching. That is why many defence organisations will not put all their eggs in the same HTS basket. Depending on the application, the service and the region, DoDs will still have a choice between commercial and military constellations, and between HTS and traditional satellites in X-, Ku- and C-band,” continues Willem.
On the other hand Communications on the move (COTM) has nowadays clearly become more than a trend in the MILSATCOM market, this is now a fact, and as such a common operational requirement.
Veillon explains that an on-the-move application is mandatory to allow operational units to be permanently connected to the operational backbone. This means that SATCOM solutions need to be proposed, and then used, at a tactical level for the Army, Navy, Air forces and Special Forces.
“Impacts on the mission (payload) and on the various SATCOM assets are significant. The size of the antennas used on the ground segment will have an impact on the mission performances itself. The integration of the Satcom terminal on vehicles as aircrafts are also not so easy; so at a system level, when implementing multi-spots system, the handover between two spots need to be well managed in order to maintain a satisfactory operational connection. Thales Alenia Space and Thales Secure Communications and Information Systems are working together to propose and deliver such OTM solutions,” says Veillon.
Norrelykke of Cobham SATCOM adds that increased demand for real time situational awareness has been met by adding real time communications capabilities to command and control vehicles. He says: “Deployment has been somewhat limited by the almost linear relationship between throughput and size of COTM satellite terminals. Compact terminals – typically Inmarsat BGAN terminals – provides limited throughputs while – Ku/Ka terminals providing higher throughputs are significantly larger limiting the practical use of these systems.”
Willem thinks on-the-move platforms will be used as tools to increase the situational awareness or to collect intelligence through on-board sensors and video cameras. In such a scenario the return path from the on-the-move platform to the hub over satellite becomes data intensive. This has consequences for the satcom terminals on board the on-the-move platforms. They need to transmit more data but still fit within the size, weight and power constraints of the platform. For instance, if you make the antenna on board a UAV too large and too heavy, it will impact the reach and reduce the operational time of the aircraft.
“Again, the service availability in COTM applications is important to exchange mission critical information, which makes it an even more difficult exercise. Certainly when you consider antenna technology and fading effects in the higher satellite frequency ranges. The right technology building blocks and equipment need to be combined to make sure the on-the-move solution is up to the task and increases the operational efficiency of warfighters during their missions,” explains Willem.
He also addresses the increased dependence of maritime forces on satellite communications when they are out at sea. “Not only do the military vessels collect ISR data or report on situational awareness over satellite, they also need satcom for onboard welfare service, logistics, administration and e-health. It becomes increasingly difficult to enroll young people into naval missions and spend months at sea without access to Internet or other communication tools. Moreover, military unions enforce DoDs to provide a minimum of welfare and healthcare lifelines over satellite. This is not an easy task for naval satcom services due to the fact that satellite coverage over oceans and seas is not available or scarce. This will hopefully be solved with the upcoming launch of the upcoming new satellite broadband constellations,” concludes Willem.