By Kelly Nicklin
Satellites cover the majority of Earth. That could be good news for military and humanitarian airborne missions which, by their very nature, must adapt to frequently changing circumstances. Whether manned or unmanned, airborne communications are only as good as the satellite connection through which they transmit. Ku-band may be sufficient in certain circumstances, and X-band may be necessary in another. Two or more bands may often be available in any given location, but airborne systems are not necessarily equipped with the onboard flexibility to take advantage of these options. That’s an unfortunate circumstance that could be avoided today.
Multi-band terminals are a quickly evolving technology that can exponentially increase flexibility by allowing the airborne system to transmit to and from satellites in various frequencies. Increasingly, the effort and time needed to vacillate between frequency bands is becoming as simple as a single component swap or a twist of a feed – both requiring mere minutes of effort. Relatively moderate up-front investment in multi-band terminals will allow airborne missions to operate in the most effective frequency for a given set of conditions, ultimately leading to cost savings and improved performance.
UAVs and manned aircraft have both been hand tied by capacity availability limitations. Most UAVs operate on Ku-band, limiting mission capabilities and options for accessibility, performance and cost savings. The government’s WGS fleet operates in X- and Ka-band and is therefore inaccessible by Ku-band equipped UAVs. Newer manned airborne systems are being designed with dual-band terminals increasing options for a relatively modest increase in upfront capital. Implementing multi-band terminals means the user no longer has to be limited to one frequency.
We have entered the era when airborne operators no longer have to ask themselves, “Can my mission proceed? Is satellite bandwidth available to me?” With the right planning and investment decisions, the only question government airborne users should be asking is, “Which frequency band is best for my mission?”