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Poland Modernizes Forces With Focus on Satellites

March 2008
By Adam Baddeley

Poland has deployed sizable formations to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. These require reach-back capabilities to headquarters in Warsaw, which in turn require satellite connectivity.
New infrastructure to align with NATO avoids duplication of capability.

Poland is making military satellite communications a priority for its force modernization. As the former Warsaw Pact member embraces NATO-style network centricity, it is turning its eyes skyward to enable newly mobile forces to interact with headquarters and each other in distant theaters of operation.

“The main task for communication and information systems (CIS) is to enable commanders to organize, command and concentrate troops in order to accomplish the mission,” explains Col. Boguslaw Szczypior, PLAF. Col. Szczypior is responsible for implementing deployable and tactical communications systems at the Command and Communications Systems Division, General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces (PLAF). “Now that the PLAF is becoming more involved in operations that are conducted far away from the homeland, there is a growing need to provide troops with long-haul broadband communications,” he points out. “The concept of satellite communication is essential for providing troops with reliable, deployable worldwide communications for missions performed outside the country. Our second issue is to provide more robustness for strategic and tactical communications systems in country. Satellite communication is one of the key elements of network-enabled capability.”

Military satellite communications (MILSATCOM) is a priority for the communications element in the overall modernization plan for the PLAF from 2007 through 2012. “In the contemporary battlefield, superiority is achieved by information advantage,” Col. Szczypior explains. This superiority is assured by network-centric operations when information gathered by intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems is provided to commanders in real or near real time. Aggregated information should be delivered to all appropriate personnel within the chain of command to provide military commanders with full situational awareness, creating a common operational picture. Networks will interconnect all command echelons down to individual soldiers, covering all functional areas from combat operations in the theater to support elements back home, all synchronized by the coordinated command and control (C2) system.

As part of the plan, Col. Szczypior outlines four command, control, communications, computers and intelligence priorities in addition to the acquisition of military and civilian satellite communications for PLAF use. These priorities include cooperating with NATO in the field of NATO network-enabled capability; making available advanced broadband tactical systems; integrating automated C2 systems into a common operating picture; and further implementing Link 11, 16 and 22 datalinks. “Communications systems such as satellite communications, high frequency systems, tactical radios, line-of-sight datalinks and multifunctional interoperable automated data processing systems will be the basis of network centricity.”

If Poland is to achieve these goals, Col. Szczypior says, it may well require overseas input. “Our priorities are cooperation with nations that are leaders in the network and are in NATO and implementation of technologically advanced national and allied solutions. We will implement our own national solution, but in the areas where we are short and require capabilities, we will look for cooperation with our allies,” he relates.

 “We are at the beginning of introducing modern satellite communications into our forces. However, we do have some experience with analog military satellite communications based on the [former] Soviet Union’s ground satellite terminals. These terminals were used to provide core communications at the strategic level, connecting the supreme commander’s headquarters with Army commanders,” the colonel notes. The system operated at C band at up to 240 watts and was capable of transmitting 240 kilobits per second (Kbps) and receiving up to 480 kbps.

In 2004, the PLAF developed the concept of satellite connectivity to tactical networks with higher echelon networks, which was subsequently accepted by the Ministry of Defence. According to this concept, explains Col. Szczypior, military satellite communications will be developed and implemented into the PLAF to provide communications support links with a number of multinational operations. These include European Union-led forces, Polish contingents within NATO-led multimission operations, non-NATO coalition operations and U.N. missions.

One of the key elements associated with developing this concept was the geographic coverage for satellite links necessary to support ongoing and future deployments. The primary area of responsibility deemed necessary is 30 degrees west to 60 degrees east, stretching from just short of the eastern tip of Brazil to the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, with a secondary area of coverage required from 100 degrees west to 120 degrees east, reaching from the U.S. Midwest to the edge of the Philippines.

As part of this assessment, the PLAF also considered several satellite communications frequency bands ranging from ultrahigh frequency (UHF) to extremely high frequency (EHF): UHF L band at 1 to 2 gigahertz (GHz), military and government X band at 7 to 8 GHz a band, C band at 4 to 8 GHz, Ku band at 10 to 15 GHz and Ka band at 19 to 32 GHz. After consideration, it was determined that super high frequency (SHF) was the optimal frequency for Poland’s needs because it offers a very large capacity at reasonable cost with good electronic countermeasure (ECM) protection and global coverage. UHF and EHF were discounted for reasons of limited capacity and interference issues in the case of the former and the very high cost and technological complexity of the latter, although Col. Szczypior notes that it did offer very good ECM protection.

Polish troops are conducting road security measures in hostile areas similar to those performed by U.S. forces. Many current Polish overseas operations have been supported via commercial satellite communications. The next stage of Poland’s plans will see this supplemented by leased X-band military satellite communications.
“SHF is the optical frequency for us. This range includes X band, which is allocated for military and government use. We have come to the conclusion we should have the capability to use X, C and Ku bands. Ku is not very expensive in comparison to EHF. We want commercial and military satellite communications,” the colonel explains, relating that the main constraints on how Poland proceeds would be financial.

“To ensure reliable strategic secure communications,” Col. Szczypior explains, “we intend to use X band. In crowded situations, it can be rather difficult to find on-demand commercial capability, and such capability can be very limited for several reasons. Therefore, Poland has to have the ability to use bands whose availability does not depend on the market. X band is in the SHF range that we can use to ensure our strategic-level needs and cooperation in a multinational environment.” The PLAF intends to acquire military X band from commercial providers.

In developing a satellite communications/MILSATCOM infrastructure, Poland has tried to align its acquisitions with NATO so as not to duplicate provision and capability. According to military procedures, NATO provided MILSATCOM required for political consultation with NATO nations and during operations for C2 functions at headquarters. Nations are responsible for all other communications in theater.

In addition to linking deployed forces, the PLAF is eyeing satellite communications/MILSATCOM as a means to transform the provision of communications to distributed forces in support of more traditional maneuver operations. “In our CIS policy, core communications at the level of corps and division were built using a mesh architecture, based on line of sight,” says Col. Szczypior. In discussing the current PLAF communications network, he explains that “to cover the area of responsibility for corps and division, a lot of line of sight is needed. Implementations of satellite communications systems allows us to transition from a full mesh line-of-sight network to mixed signals architecture and reduces the complexity and number of line-of-sight systems.”

Col. Szczypior believes this effort will result in changes to the PLAF’s approach to take advantage of new beyond-line-of-sight enablers. In a modern battlefield operation, the area of responsibility of the corps, division and brigades is increasing, particularly in peacekeeping and stabilization efforts. It will become more difficult to provide troops with communications using a mesh architecture based on line of sight. Instead, widely distributed systems with so-called communications islands will be interconnected with satellite communication systems.

 “Almost everything is a challenge for us” with regard to implementing future plans, the colonel relates.

To realize the infrastructure to support MILSATCOM, the PLAF plans to begin construction of its first of two MILSATCOM anchor sites in 2008, which will be owned by the military and will support the C, X and Ku bands. “So far we have been working hard on the project definition. In 2008, technical studies will be developed, and at the end of the year, hopefully, construction work will start. In 2009, we plan to procure equipment for the stations, and a second fixed station for backup is planned to be built by 2012 to 2016,” Col. Szczypior states.

“At the moment we have a pool of deployable terminals for SHF communications consisting of two terminal types: the transportable ground terminal, AGAWA, and the mobile ground terminal, FIKUS,” he outlines. Both solutions are tri-band and support C-, X- and Ku-band communications. AGAWA provides strategic-level support at corps and division levels with the 1.8-meter-diameter FIKUS being reserved for lower echelons. AGAWA and FIKUS provide 20 megabits per second (Mbps) and 7 Mbps in time division multiple access (TDMA) and frequency division multiple access (FDMA) over point-to-point, point-to-multipoint and mesh networks using Internet protocol as the basis for communications.

One main issue for the future, according to Col. Szczypior, is the acquisition of small flyaway terminals to provide long-haul communications at the tactical level for the army and special operations forces. These terminals need to be available with an antenna of less than 1 meter; they need to provide throughput of around 512 Kbps; and they must be able to be carried by one soldier. Another objective, according to the colonel, is to provide the mobile commander with reliable communications involving small units. The commanders need to communicate on the move and to receive and share information and combat identification.

Discussing security in the context of using civilian satellite communications, Col. Szczypior says, “The challenge is to provide more assurance in the future. We are aware that [leased civil satellite communication] is not always very good. We are in the process of acquiring future capacity so that this issue can be addressed.” The PLAF is currently looking at acquiring a greater antijamming capability, with electronic protection measures and EHF capability being considered.

Work in Iraq and Afghanistan has provided substantial experience with using MILSATCOM and satellite communications on a large scale, in new roles and for new applications. “For operations in Iraq, new needs and technical procedures emerged,” says Col. Szczypior. “We needed to provide communication services for operations, command and control, medical support and welfare communications. There also were established satellite communications links between units in the theater, connecting division headquarters with brigade and battalions. All the satellite communications systems were based on leased services.”

Poland leased transponders on a single satellite providing FDMA and single channel per carrier very small aperture terminal (VSAT) communications linking each of its camps with a 512-Kbps bidirectional communications to headquarters in Warsaw.

“For operations in Afghanistan,” Col. Szczypior explains, “we had planned communications systems to connect our forces with each other and to provide connection between headquarters and deployed forces in the theater.” In Afghanistan, Poland’s forces are divided among five camps. VSAT links are provided over three satellites ranging from 1.5 Mbps down to 464 Kbps with mobile vehicle-mounted solutions capable of data rates of up to 1240 Kbps. Satellite networks have full mesh and are based primarily on TDMA architecture using C band and Ku band.

Satellite communications interconnect headquarters at all times. Internet protocols provide integrated-services digital network data to tactical voice, while UHF MILSATCOM is provided by NATO and ensures voice communications at company level. Beside broadband SHF, Poland also has acquired several mobile satellite communications solutions: the NERA F77 using Inmarsat feeds, the Motorola M9505A Iridium satellite telephone and the Thuraya SO-2510 cell-phone-size handset.

Poland also is seeking to develop its own satellites. Under the Mazovia program it is developing a 200-kilogram, 150-watt mini-satellite designed to carry both a multispectral and panchromatic scanner to a low earth orbit. These satellites are planned for agricultural monitoring as well as for potential humanitarian and military roles.

Web Resource
Ministry of National Defence, Republic of Poland: