LONG BEACH, Calif. — The Army plans to bring newer, more powerful satellites into its tactical network within 10 years, an Army official told industry partners Friday.
The service looks to leverage innovative programs, such as the Medium Earth Orbit and Low Earth Orbit satellite constellations, as the need for bandwidth and top application performance continues to grow. Some commercial companies already use MEO satellites and some LEO satellites have been launched into orbit.
Maj. Gen. David Bassett, Program Executive Officer for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical, or PEO C3T, said the service expects initial experimentation by 2023 and could possibly field the technology around 2025-2027.
Creating a more resilient, secure network could be crucial to ensure the success of the Army’s ambitious modernization goals, which include plans to spend $8.4 billion over the next five years to modernize its network.
“I think that we recognize that many of the operational concepts that are under consideration require the availability of what could be significant amounts of data and interconnectivity to enable those kinds of behaviors,” Bassett said during the Association of the U.S. Army’s Space and Network Symposium. “This notion of a shared, collaborative battlespace implies a certain degree of connectivity.”
MEO satellites and Geostationary High Throughput Satellites supply high bandwidth connections, while LEO mega constellations provide broadband internet services. If the MEO and LEO satellites are successful, the Army will field communications terminals at commercial prices — a lower cost solution.
“If I could have a solution in the future that could deliver multiple megabits of capability at the same price for terminal and bandwidth … make it as simple for our Soldiers to use, that’s transformation,” Bassett said. “That would change the way we fight with that much bandwidth across my formation. I think that’s game-changing, but that’s not here yet.”
Bassett said the Army will follow the lead of the Air Force, which has been developing an Internet protocol service with greater standoff distance compared to current terminals used in warfighting.
Called Military Satellite Communications Systems, the $42 billion project creates a communications network of satellites, control stations and terminals for the Air Force’s aircraft worldwide.
MILSATCOM allows the Air Force to provide reliable, secure satellite communications capabilities to warfighters. First, it plans to distribute the service over existing Wideband Global SATCOM by fiscal year 2023. Then it will add anti-jamming Protected Tactical Satellites, with the first prototype expected to be fielded by fiscal 2024.
Bassett said the Army will utilize both military and commercial technology to meet the communications needs of its formations.
The technology could provide an alternative to a service whose communications relies heavily on global-positioning satellites. Bassett said the service must move away from ubiquitous communication technology and find methods to deliver communications when the GPS system fails.
“When we talk about an Achilles’ heel of our formations, it’s this reliance on space — reliance on GPS to provide position navigation, especially timing for our communication systems for our (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) systems,” he said.
The Army’s development of its Integrated Visual Augmentation System connects shared data to a limited amount of individuals using simulated 3-D images to help train Soldiers. Limited access can bode well when protecting communications from third parties as well as provide an independent network that continues to function when the grid crashes.
“It’s that much more powerful,” Bassett said. “But we want the base capability to continue to be useful in the absence of the connection. We need to design systems that are network-enabled, but not network-dependent, that in the absence of that robust network, they can continue to provide military capability.”