For years, every government and military event and conference that featured a satellite panel discussion or keynote address would regale attendees with a relatively similar message. Space is no longer a benign environment, it’s a warfighting domain. The U.S. military and its coalition partners need to prioritize security and assuredness in satellite communications for the future fight. And greater interoperability is needed at the terminal and terrestrial network level to make assured communications possible.
If recent events in Eastern Europe have shown us anything, it’s that there really was cause for concern among military and satellite industry thought leaders. Satellite networks and communications have been an early target for adversaries as a way to deny mission-critical communications and capabilities. And with modern militaries relying heavily on network and software-enabled platforms, those satellite networks need to be resilient, because they’re now mission-critical.
One of the best ways to make satellite communications more assured is to enable the military to quickly and seamlessly move their signals to overcome the adversary’s attempts to deny them. If signals can be switched between commercial satellite networks and military satellite networks, the adversary’s targeting calculus becomes more difficult, and the military can more rapidly restore communications that were degraded or denied.
But even better would be the ability to seamlessly move signals from MILSATCOM assets in geostationary orbit (GEO) to commercial satellites in any orbit – including GEO, medium earth orbit (MEO), and low earth orbit (LEO). Not only would this make the targeting of satellite networks nearly impossible for the adversary, but it would also give the military access to an ecosystem of thousands of satellites with which to operate.
Interoperability between terminals and terrestrial networks has long been the stumbling block to enabling this kind of seamless switching between satellites. But recent tests being conducted for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) have illustrated that the obstacle of interoperability could soon be eliminated.
In December of last year, SES Government Solutions (SES GS) announced that it worked in close cooperation with Lite Coms to update the legacy U.S. Army Phoenix Terminal to be MEO capable for the U.S. Army. The upgraded terminal could operate with traditional commercial and military GEO satellites, as well as with commercial Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) constellations.
To learn more about this test and what it means for the U.S. Army, we sat down with the President and CEO of Lite Coms, Robert Jacobson.
Robert Jacobson: Lite Coms LLC is a three-year-old company in Victor, NY, comprised of a team of engineers, operations professionals, and programs professionals that have worked together for more than 20 years, building and delivering more than 11,000 VSAT terminals to defense customers in the U.S. and around the globe.
We create the most feature-rich and highest-performing products in the market. Our parabolic Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSAT) and Electronically Steerable Array (ESA) flat panel terminals are the most capable products available to the U.S. military and its coalition partners.
In the past three years, we have introduced more than a dozen products – each one more capable and more advanced than anything our competitors have on the market. Military customers seek us out because of the performance of our product, our dedication to customer support, and our high attention to detail.
GSR: Why are terminals that are rugged, light, and easy to use essential for today’s military?
Robert Jacobson: The increase in advance technology on the battlefield can be taxing on an operator. And we don’t want to add to that stress. That’s why we believe the focus of the soldier, sailor, airman, or marine should not be on how to make their terminal function.
We are committed to using the latest in technology and industry standards to make their job easier through software, automation, miniaturization, and advanced packaging technologies for survivability. And we work to balance that with low size, weight, and power requirements (SWaP) to minimize the impact on the warfighter.
“SES and Lite Coms conducted testing in support of the U.S. Army…with the Phoenix E terminal delivering communications via the SES O3b MEO satellite constellation…The results were excellent. In fact, we became the de facto primary means of communications when other legacy hardware and new LEO-only systems were having difficulties.” – Robert Jacobson
As advanced technologies increasingly make their way into the battlefield and become critical to virtually every military mission, it’s essential that terminals can be operated by untrained users, and that they can be stored and transported in a rucksack instead of multiple transit cases.
GSR: Lite Comms recently worked with SES to make its Phoenix E terminal work with MEO. Why is MEO satellite connectivity desirable to the military? What advanced capabilities can MEO enable?
Robert Jacobson: We believe the Phoenix E MEO certification is a major milestone for the satellite communications community. This is the first time there is a WGS-certified and MEO-certified terminal available to the DOD. This also marks the first time that a low PIM, multi-carrier X-band terminal is available to them, as well.
The data rates offered through the MEO enhancement are truly game-changing. The Phoenix E on WGS has been tested to deliver data rates of 50 Mbps. The O3B network from SES will support data rates of up to 600Mbps on the same Phoenix E terminal.
GSR: Can the Phoenix terminals work with both GEO and MEO? How can these terminals enable multi-domain operations?
Robert Jacobson: We are striving to ensure all Lite Coms terminals are “Constellation Agnostic.” We believe that allowing the Expeditionary Signal Battalion-Enhanced to have single terminal – like Phoenix E – that can be used with constellations in both MEO and GEO brings a whole new paradigm of mission planning and options to our warfighter.
“We believe the Phoenix E MEO certification is a major milestone…This is the first time there is a WGS-certified and MEO-certified terminal available to the DOD. This also marks the first time that a low PIM, multi-carrier X-band terminal is available to them, as well.” – Robert Jacobson
Depending on the mission, they can use standard WGS on X-band or military Ka-band, or commercial Ku-band, traditional C-band, or the game-changing MEO O3b from SES.
GSR: Why would the military be interested in accessing satellite communications from different orbits utilizing the same terminals and hardware? What benefits could this deliver?
Robert Jacobson: Tailoring your communications to meet your mission requirements is of critical importance to the mission planners. Having the ability to expand your data throughput from 50Mbps to 600Mbps using the same organic products is of great interest to the military leadership.
Also, cost savings in hardware and in transport is staggering when you get data rates like this through a terminal typically capable of 50Mbps. The days of needing to bring 3.9 meter or larger terminals will be a thing of the past. We will drastically reduce the amount of equipment being transported via aircraft with this technology.
GSR: SES GS recently announced that they were doing some multiple orbit testing for the U.S. Army. How is Lite Coms involved in these tests? What do the tests entail, and what is the Army looking to determine with these tests?
Robert Jacobson: Last fall, SES and Lite Coms conducted testing in support of the U.S. Army. The testing took place over a number of months, with the Phoenix E terminal delivering communications via the SES O3b MEO satellite constellation for Army users in Fort Lewis and Yuma. The results were excellent. We tracked the MEO satellites consistently and had no failures or breaks in communication for the duration of the exercise.
“The increase in advanced technology on the battlefield can be taxing on an operator. And we don’t want to add to that stress.” – Robert Jacobson
In fact, we became the de facto primary means of communications when other legacy hardware and new LEO-only systems were having difficulties. Our new Phoenix E terminals delivered resilient, high-throughput communications, and proved that MEO upgrades to the Phoenix are a worthwhile investment for the U.S. Army.
Lite Coms is very excited to continue working with SES and the U.S. Department of Defense to field constellation agnostic solutions for our users now and into the future.