Background. On December 7, 2016, the US Air Force launched the 8th of 10 planned Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) satellites into orbit, from Cape Canaveral in Florida. This latest WGS satellite marks a technological leap forward for the WGS constellation, bringing more X- (and Ka-band) capacity to the Department of Defense. X-band is also an important part of NATO’s own CP130 capabilities package for satellite communications. There is a reason that the Department of Defense and NATO have invested so heavily in X-band: X-band provides high-throughput, virtually weatherproof satellite communications that excels with high-mobility, lightweight applications ranging from forward tactical and SOF units, to maritime communications, to airborne ISR and UAV assets. For these types of applications, X-band in fact provides substantially better service than Ka-band. No wonder X-band is a key component of the Department of Defense’s and NATO’s SATCOM architectures.
Working with – not Against – WGS. DoD security cooperation planners, acquisition professionals, and J5 and J6 staffs take note: for interoperability and resiliency purposes, we should be planning our DoD acquisition and Foreign Military Sales efforts around WGS. WGS users’ X- and Ka-band bandwidth costs drop to zero. Non-WGS users (and WGS users with time-sensitive emergent needs or preemption concerns) can easily obtain non-preemptible, 100% fully-WGS compatible X-band SATCOM, provided by XTAR. Given the benefits of (a) interoperability and resiliency, (b) high performance, and (c) affordability, X-band is a win-win-win combination for the DoD – and for our security cooperation partners as well. Here’s why:
1. Interoperability, Resiliency with US and NATO forces. Interoperability with WGS during peacetime means immediate interoperability during crises, or while our security cooperation partners are providing support to multinational or out-of-area operations. During U.S.-funded training and exercises, a security cooperation partner with X-band antennas doesn’t need to re-purchase compatible gear, they simply need to re-point their antennas from XTAR to WGS. Or, better: leave the antennas pointed to XTAR, and the non-preemptible bandwidth provided to support the event or operation can even be credited as a host nation contribution – with the equivalent value possibly returned under an Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) if one is in force. During real-world military operations, of course, the benefits of ready interoperability are invaluable because interoperability saves lives.
2. High-performance, All-Weather SATCOM. X-band’s unique combination of properties means that it easily supports voice, data, imagery and HD video – while also being extremely resistant to atmospheric attenuation, meaning that less power (and/or costly bandwidth) is used to close a link. These all-weather properties result in lower bandwidth needs, and less total cost to the customer. Furthermore, SATCOM planners know that the wide (4°) spacing between X-band satellites means that smaller, lighter, more-portable SATCOM terminals can be used, without the use or cost of spread-spectrum technologies. The combination of high performance and all weather properties of X-band is a win-win for the warfighter as well as the DoD writ large – no wonder the U.N.’s International Telecommunications Union has specially reserved X-band for use by militaries and governments around the world.
3. Affordability. Because the world’s most advanced militaries already use X-band, security cooperation partners who adopt X-band as their first choice have no need to repurchase additional SATCOM terminals and equipment once they deploy with U.S. and NATO forces. Get it right the first time, and you only maintain one set of always-ready, worldwide-deployable SATCOM terminals.
Conclusion. Any solution that achieves greater interoperability and resiliency, higher performance, and increases affordability is a solution worth examining very closely. As the DoD continues to deepen its commitment to X- and Ka- bands through the launch of WGS-8 this week, DoD acquisition professionals and J6 staffs should recognize the important role that WGS already plays in our national security architecture, and seek to acquire weapons systems and C4I solutions that take advantage of these DoD assets already in the sky. Meanwhile, security cooperation staffs and J5 planners should then promote interoperability with these assets to ensure that our security cooperation partners and the DoD itself can move seamlessly between WGS and 100% WGS-compatible architectures. Not only do these actions provide the DoD and our security cooperation partners with a high degree of SATCOM resiliency and interoperability, the unmatched performance of X-band, and the cost savings associated with using 100% WGS-compatible X-band allows our the DoD and our security cooperation partners to steer limited financial resources elsewhere and thus generate even more combat power, globally, where needed, when needed.