Last month, I had the opportunity to attend SATELLITE 2015, one of the year’s largest satellite conferences, which was taking place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in the nation’s capital. The SATELLITE Conference brings together satellite service providers and equipment manufacturers with decision makers from a wide spectrum of markets and industries. This includes senior decision makers from the governments and militaries of the United States and its allies.
With a large government presence at this year’s conference, the SES Government Solutions team was able to discuss the specific needs and pain points impacting agencies and military branches with the very decision makers responsible for implementing the satellite solutions necessary to overcome them. Based on these discussions, it’s apparent that there are two major trends impacting the military’s satellite requirements today – bandwidth and mobility.
Although I said two trends, the two are intrinsically linked. Ultimately, today’s modern military wants to create an environment where the warfighter and senior decision makers are just as effective from any location as they are from their desks. This means that the same services and communications are necessary even where there’s no fiber connection, and the satellite services necessary to deliver these communications and capabilities need to deliver the bandwidth and reduced latency on par with a wired, fiber network.
When it comes to mobility, the challenge remains delivering the communications capabilities and up-to-date data necessary for military leaders to make informed and educated decisions from any location and at any time. This means enabling en-route planning by delivering communications services and information directly to military decision makers while they’re in transit.
In the past, everything stopped (or certainly information flow slowed down) when senior military leaders were on the road, in the air or on the high seas. If a six hour trip was necessary to get decision makers to where they needed to be, six hours were spent with no planning and limited communication. A lot can happen in six hours, and – when the military is concerned – waiting six hours to make a decision could lead to mission failure or loss of life. Lots of circumstances change in 6 hours! This is why getting communications to ships, airplanes and other vehicles is so essential to the military today.
Unfortunately, some challenges still remain when it comes to delivering satellite communications to moving vehicles. Most of these challenges are related to spectrum and interference considering the small size of the satellite equipment needed for some implementations, such as UAVs, planes and convoy vehicles. However, the commercial satellite communications industry is working feverishly to overcome them and make satellite connectivity a reality to any vehicle.
Then there’s the matter of bandwidth. Even if we can get communications to a warfighter or military decision maker, it’s useless if it can’t deliver the information and data that they need in the field in a timely manner. This is even more important today as higher resolution images, video and HD video teleconferencing become more mainstream across the military and intelligence agencies.
Ultimately, real time video will always provide better, more timely intelligence to military decision makers than traditional, still images. HD video can provide even more detail and even better actionable intelligence. And now, with 4K resolution video becoming increasingly available, the military is capable of capturing and making decisions from real time video that is as clear and high quality as being in-theater and seeing the battlefield with your own two eyes. Unfortunately, video – especially 4K and HD video – require significantly more bandwidth than still images of even the highest quality.
This is why so many of the military decision makers that we spoke with at SATELLITE 2015 were interested in high throughput satellites (HTS). These satellites are capable of delivering significantly higher throughputs and bandwidth than traditional satellites.
Many SATCOM providers are in the process of building and launching HTS constellations, which should deliver the fiber-like bandwidth demanded by today’s military in the not-to-distant future. However, another option was present at the SATELLITE 2015 Conference that was created significant buzz – right in the SES booth. O3B’s constellation of MEO satellites were receiving significant attention from attendees from both the military and private sector for their ability to deliver fiber-like connectivity and low latency today. (Additional information about O3B is available HERE.)
There is almost limitless intelligence available to military decision makers today. Technology has advanced to the point where 4K resolution video of the battlefield is now possible, when grainy black-and-white photos were all that was available just a few decades ago. Ensuring that this intelligence is available to guide the decision making of senior military leaders remains one of the biggest priorities of the Department of Defense (DoD) today. Through HTS, MEO satellite constellations and new emerging technologies, the commercial satellite communications industry is poised to help the military overcome these challenges now and into the future.