Commercial satellite communications (COMSATCOM) aren’t just used in the military to remotely pilot UAVs, or to keep soldiers on the battlefield connected to each other and senior decision makers. COMSATCOM is also used widely by the military for another very important mission – entertaining and informing the troops to keep them up-to-date on the latest world news and keep morale high.
The delivery of television and radio programming to United States military personnel stationed at home and abroad is part of the mission of the American Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS). Whether it’s the delivery of a speech by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or the latest episode of the Voice, getting essential transmissions to the warfighter is the job of the AFRTS.
Since the existence of terrestrial networks can be tenuous and spotty at best around the globe, the AFRTS relies heavily on COMSATCOM solutions to accomplish their mission.
To learn more about the role of the AFRTS, the work that they do for America’s men and women in arms and how they use COMSATCOM to bring an essential service to the troops we sat down with George Smith, the Chief of Affiliate Relations at the AFRTS.
Here is what George had to say:
GovSatReport: What is the American Forces Radio and Television Service, and what is its mission?
Mr. Smith: AFRTS is the American Forces Radio and Television Service. It is part of the Department of Defense, and is headquartered at Fort George Meade, Maryland. The AFRTS mission is to communicate Department of Defense policies, priorities, programs, goals and initiatives. AFRTS provides stateside radio and television programming, “a touch of home,” to U.S. service men and women, DoD civilians, and their families serving outside the continental United States.
AFRTS includes 25 local manned radio and TV stations around the world, a regional function in Germany and Japan, the AFN Broadcast Center and the Radio and Television Production Office (RTPO).
The AFRTS mission is to provide U.S. radio and television news, information, and entertainment programming to Active, Guard, and Reserve Military Service members, DoD civilians and contract employees, and their families overseas, on board Navy ships, and other authorized users. We communicate messages and themes from senior DoD leaders (Secretary of Defense, Secretaries of the Military Departments, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Military Service Chiefs of Staff, Combatant Commanders), as well as other leaders in the chain-of-command, in order to support and improve quality of life and morale, promote situational awareness, provide timely and immediate force protection information, and sustain readiness.
GovSatReport: What different services does the AFRTS provide to America’s military personnel?
Mr. Smith: The AFN Broadcast Center (BC) programs nine full-time television services, all originating from the Broadcast Center in Riverside California.
The primary television service is known as AFN|prime. There are two AFN|prime services with basically the same programs time-shifted for the two major time zones (AFN|prime Atlantic and AFN|prime Pacific). Additional television programming is available on the AFN|news, AFN|sports, AFN|sports2, AFN|movie, AFN|family and AFN|spectrum.
Navy ships equipped with satellite dishes receive the AFN television services via a satellite distribution network known as Direct-To-Sailor, or DTS.
The AFN BC originates 12 different 24/7 satellite radio services and eight streaming Internet radio services (Legacy, Country, Joe Radio, Power Talk, The Voice, Freedom, Gravity and Hot Adult Contemporary). You may only receive AFN 360 Internet Radio in countries where AFN has terrestrial radio transmitters.
GovSatReport: Why is the mission of the AFRTS so essential?
Mr. Smith: AFRTS stations keep American military personnel and their families informed and entertained around the clock, on duty or off. It’s a huge morale builder to deliver critical military news, information and force protection messages impacting their life and career, live American news and sporting events, and top TV entertainment shows they see in the States.
AFN has given Americans living overseas real time help and information with many natural disasters, emergencies and force protection threats over the years, from volcanic eruptions in Italy, flooding in Italy and Portugal, the earthquake in Japan or typhoons in the Pacific. AFN stations served an exceptionally vital role in the aftermath of 9/11, providing the military audience with round-the-clock English language force protection updates that they couldn’t get anywhere else.
Every day AFN stations around the world give American military personnel and their families real time updates on school bus closings and delays, road closures, missing person reports and localized force protection advice.
GovSatReport: What role do satellite communications play in the delivery of this content? Why are terrestrial networks not enough? Why is satellite essential to AFRTS accomplishing its mission?
Mr. Smith: AFRTS distributes about 90% of the top television news, sports and entertainment shows you see on commercial and cable television. That content originates from the AFN Broadcast Center in Riverside, California, where it is delivered around the globe via satellite.
AFN stations are located around the world. We need satellites to get the signal to all of them. Since our programming and information comes from the States, we need a satellite network to compensate for the curvature of the earth and the signal to everyone.
GovSatReport: How do you see the mission and capabilities of the AFRTS evolving in the coming years? Will additional services and programming be made available to the warfighter? Will other entertainment and communication services be extended to the tip of the spear? What technology changes will need to be addressed to enable this?
Mr. Smith: AFRTS will continue to evolve as U.S. entertainment and distribution capabilities evolve. Even though our audiences are overseas, the service members come from the United States.
We are always exploring new technologies to try and give our audiences the same capabilities they have at home. Of course, budget and logistics play a role in AFN capabilities, but we are always moving forward to include video on demand and streaming.