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Looking Ahead: the Future of Military Satellite Communications

SMC Mission of the Month for September is MILSATCOM

SMC Mission of the Month for September is MILSATCOM


As SMC’s Military Satellite Communications (MILSATCOM) Directorate and its mission partners make ready for the launches of the fourth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite and the eight Wideband Global Satellite Communication (WGS) satellite, energies are turning to the next generation of SATCOM efforts.  Two MILSATCOM Divisions are spearheading these efforts here at Los Angeles Air Force Base, California -  the Advanced Development Division (MCD) and the Advanced Concepts Division (MCX).  MCD is focused on the next generation of protected Military SATCOM, while MCX focuses on innovative investment strategies and approaches for acquiring Commercial SATCOM.

The MILSATCOM enterprise recently completed the Protected Satellite Communications Services Analysis of Alternatives (PSCS AoA), which analyzed potential architectures for protected strategic and tactical MILSATCOM for DoD users.  Air Force Space Command directed a follow-on study to the PSCS AoA that evaluated the benefits of resiliency to emerging space threats when considering these potential future architectures.  One way to achieve this is to disaggregate the strategic and tactical SATCOM missions.  Currently, both are aggregated on one satellite constellation, AEHF, but future architectures may include separate satellite constellations for strategic and tactical users, whose missions and needs differ significantly.

As tactical MILSATCOM users face increasing threats from jamming, MCD is focusing on a three part initiative to bring greater levels of anti-jam protection to the field.  The first step in this effort has just kicked off with the award of the Protected Tactical Service Field Demonstration, awarded in August 2016 to three contractors (Raytheon, L-3 Communications and ViaSat). This will initiate development of modems using the Protected Tactical Waveform (PTW) to demonstrate the ability to provide anti-jam communications to tactical users using the (WGS) constellation and Commercial SATCOM.  The field demo also prepares SATCOM terminal users for the upcoming Protected Tactical Enterprise Services (PTES) Program, a system that will transmit the PTW over WGS satellites in the 2023 timeframe.  Additionally, this capability will be provided from space with the planned Protected Tactical Satellite program, which will provide on-board PTW processing to increase the amount of anti-jam capability provided to tactical users in a contested environment.

The future of MILSATCOM is also being shaped by innovation within MCX. This team makes it their mission to develop revolutionary approaches, technologies, and investment strategies that reshape, revector, and regrow the future of the MILSATCOM enterprise. In a time where fiscal constraints are as tight as ever, these folks work to bring the same operational capabilities to the warfighter at a drastically reduced cost, by taking advantage of existing Commercial SATCOM.

A significant milestone known as the Wideband AoA will begin in November that will greatly shape the future of Military SATCOM. This milestone will group together several different options for how to meet the operational need of wideband MILSATCOM more than 10 years into the future, and analyze the best solution to pursue and eventually field.


MCX is also working to execute a series of projects known as Pathfinder, which have shown great promise in cost savings. These projects are revolutionary in that they lean heavily on existing commercial satellites and non-military industry to help control the costs and risks associated with designing, building, launching, and maintaining satellite systems. Additionally, they also allow the commercial satellite contractor to manage their satellites in a way to meet the needs of both their commercial customers and the military customer. This concept aligns costs more directly with satellite usage, benefitting all stakeholders involved. Further increasing flexibility, the Pathfinder projects also utilize a concept known as ‘pooled portable bandwidth.’ This allows the military access to the commercial provider’s entire constellation of satellites, which increases flexibility regarding coverage area in a way the traditional leasing of satellites does not. This concept is similar to renting a car for a small fee only when and where you need to use it, instead of spending a lot of money to buy one to own in one spot.


It’s this focus on efficiency and innovation that keep the folks in the MILSATCOM Directorate busy, and it is projects like Pathfinder and the PTES Program that will continue to advance our MILSATCOM capabilities far into the future.