The DoD should use this time of relatively low tempo operations to throw off the shackles and take a fresh look at how it addresses SATCOM capabilities for future mission requirements.
Troop withdrawal from Afghanistan is underway. Units are coming home. Shouldn’t a major change like this, after such a prolonged war focus, present the defense community with the opportunity, ahem obligation, to rethink which satellite capabilities they use from now on? This could be just the eye of the storm. It could be a costly missed opportunity by DoD leaders not to take a hard look now at how satcom requirements for future missions are fulfilled.
One primary factor in satellite communications is frequency band. I believe each frequency band has an important part to play in service delivery. The question is which band best fits a user’s application and acts as a force enabler for mission success. Some have stated that military Ka-band on Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) is going to serve the majority of its user needs in the coming years. Ka-band is not a replacement for Ku-band, any more than Ku-band was or is a replacement for C-band. Ka-band has become, and will continue to be a valuable solution users will employ. Every radio frequency, for that matter, performs optimally under different conditions. We engineers can only do so much to manipulate these physical characteristics.
By confining itself to only those frequency bands for which it is already ground-equipped, DoD is missing out on a wide range of readily available, technically effective and affordable alternatives. We are left with defining the solution based on a limited sub-set of options instead of organizing SATCOM architecture around meeting the requirements of the mission.
What could the government expect to get in return for thinking beyond the current state of milsatcom? Options. Flexibility. More solutions for the end-user. We don’t continue using our old cell phones simply because we have the right charger. We evaluate several options and, generally, purchase the best we can get for a reasonable price. One recent example that illustrates how the military is creating these options is the Army’s new T2C2 terminals for its WIN-T program. Using these multi-band terminals immediately expands the types of solutions available to the Army. By availing themselves of X- and Ka-bands, the Army can now take advantage of the advantages of both bands depending on the mission.
Other technologies, such as HTS, on-board processing, and hosted payloads, as well as considering a commercial provider, now offer the government new resources to outfit troops to defend our national security. Rather than sticking to the status quo, this is the ideal time for the DoD to choose how to get the maximum bang for its buck.