Army challenges industry to find solutions to satellite communication hurdles
September 16, 2011
By Amy Walker
TAMPA, Fla. -- As satellite requirements for the U.S. military continue to increase, the Army is looking to industry to help combat the challenges and supply limitations that arise from advancements in technologies that leverage satellite capabilities.
"From the delivery of the first Satellite Transportable Terminal to the tactical battlefield, to our present efforts to field on-the-move capabilities to Soldiers, industry has been a critical partner to our government and military team," said Brig. Gen. N. Lee S. Price, Program Executive Officer for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T).
Industry, the U.S. Army, Joint and Coalition forces, and Army Combatant Commands (COCOM) gathered together for the fourth annual Army Commercial Satellite Communications (SATCOM) Users' Workshop at the Tampa Convention Center, Tampa, Fla. on Aug. 22. The underlying goal of the workshop was to conduct candid discussions between the military and industry to produce practical results and encourage future partnerships to tackle current and future capability gaps. Participation in this year's workshop increased to 230 attendees, up from 141 last year.
"The fact that there are more people here [at the end of the day] than there were when we started this morning is a testament to the relevance and the benefits that are coming out of this forum," said Col. Edward Swanson, Project Manager of Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (PM WIN-T), who co-hosted the event.
Today, the Army is the single largest user of commercial SATCOM across all of the services, agencies, and COCOMS. Army units are also using commercial SATCOM at all stages of the Army Force Generation (ARFORGEN) cycle. Despite the large current dependency on commercial SATCOM, its usages and expenditures continue to grow. The National Space Strategy outlines increased use of commercial space assets, hosted payloads, and multinational cooperation, said Maj. Gen. James Thomas Walton of the United States Army Reserve (active), who is director of the Chief Integration Office, Office of the Chief Information Officer/G-6.
"The government is not going to build satellites to satisfy all of its requirements, so there will still be a robust ongoing role for commercial satellite use," Walton said.
Walton noted several key areas for partnerships with industry in the SATCOM arena, including protected anti-jam SATCOM; assured access that can overcome weather, terrain and dispersed operations; and the ability to provide enough capacity and bandwidth for user needs that incorporates every frequency spectrum. Industry can also help the Army to provide better connectivity, which can be diminished by hurdles such as oversubscription to satellites, aging constellations, and commercial satellite limitations, he said.
As the network continues to evolve, so too will its SATCOM requirements. The network of 2020 that will power the Army is key to ensuring the Army trains as it fights. It must be completely integrated, from garrison to the tactical edge, and provide information when needed and in any environment. In the future the Army is expected to be smaller than it is today, but it will still deploy to austere environments with little or no notice. It needs to be ready to fight and have a single well defined network, Walton said.
"The overall thrust is to enable mission command at the tactical edge," Walton said.
The Army will continue to build capacity through modernized capability set fielding instead of "stove-piped" individual systems. It is open to work with industry on solutions for gaps in current and future capabilities, Walton said.
Since development of commercial, off-the-shelf equipment far outpaces that of government, off-the-shelf equipment, tighter coordination with industry will be important to leverage standard commercial products without augmenting system designs, said Price said in her keynote address.
"We can all benefit from a synchronized effort to make equipment smaller, lighter and less expensive," Price said. "Industry can save a large amount of money for the taxpayer and Soldier by utilizing existing capabilities from other corporations rather than reinventing an entire capability."
Providing SATCOM on-the-move capability brings with it a host of its own integration challenges and industry could potentially help to overcome these. As WIN-T Increment 2 nears its first unit equipped and its capabilities continue to evolve, SATCOM demand will inevitably increase. This significant increase in SATCOM capability will require additional bandwidth and resources, said Lt. Col. Robert Collins, product manager (PdM) for WIN-T Increments 2/3. PM WIN-T is assigned to PEO C3T.
"In WIN-T Increment 2 we are pushing capability from the upper echelons down to the company level with range extension, and that is a very good thing, but there are some unique challenges with that as we push that capability lower," Collins said.
Some of these challenges include the tactical military vehicles themselves, which have constrained size, weight, space and power capacity. It is also essential to make certain that all of the electronics and transmission systems to be placed on a vehicle can co-exist and function without interference while ensuring the safety of operators and maintainers, Collins said.
"We are taking much smaller SATCOM dishes and putting them on unit combat platforms," Collins said. "How do you fit those devices on top of vehicles already equipped with critical lifesaving devices? These are things you have to make sure you deconflict."
Terrain, elevation, and other physical challenges can also affect SATCOM connectivity on the battlefield. Moreover, on-the-move satellite terminals must use smaller antennas -- and the smaller the antenna, the larger the beam width required to establish communications links. Unfortunately, large beam width antennas will, in most cases, affect the domestic and international regulations for satellite radiation patterns, Collins said.
In the future, there will be substantial increases in SATCOM capabilities throughout the force. Currently, there are 48 SATCOM nodes per division in WIN-T Increment 1, however once fielded, WIN-T Increment 2 will have 209 per division. This increase in SATCOM requires techniques to mitigate pointing error, larger beams, and close transponder issues, while maximizing SATCOM efficiencies, Collins said.
PM WIN-T's PdM SATCOM team is developing equipment with a diminished footprint, which is smaller and lighter, for increased transportability. It is building equipment that consumes less power and gas and incorporates enhanced Uninterrupted Power Supply designs. These costs savings will be used to provide more bandwidth, which will allow PEO C3T to further extend satellite communications down to the company level with WIN-T Increment 2, Price said.
"Looking over lessons-learned, we should not only look at the things we can do better, but at the things we have done well and follow that success," said Lt. Col. Gregory Coile, PdM for SATCOM, assigned to PM WIN-T.
In a challenging fiscal economy, it is more important than ever for industry to partner with the military in finding unique and integrated solutions with open architectures that can be universally and easily applied to complex challenges.
PdM SATCOM designs terminals that are tailorable to users' needs. Its satellite terminals can "do multiple tasks, on multiple bands, using multiple modems" in order to support different users, Coile said.
"When our customers come to us with requirements, they don't want to hear two years or 18 months, they want it in a matter of days," Coile said. "You need to have equipment that is ready to answer that call."
Amy Walker is a staff writer for Symbolic Systems, Inc. supporting the Army's Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T).