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Wideband Global Satellite Goes Live

June 16, 2008
by Maryann Lawlor
E-mail About the Author

 
Brig. Gen. John E. Seward, USA (l), deputy commanding general for operations, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, and Brig. Gen. Ronald M. Bouchard, USA, director, J-6, U.S. Pacific Command, cut the ribbon symbolizing the activation of the first Wideband Global SATCOM satellite.
The U.S. Defense Department activated the first of six Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) satellites that promise to revolutionize its communications architecture. The WGS-1 provides more than 10 times the capacity of the Defense Satellite Communication System (DSCS) satellite. During the next five years, the other five WGS spacecraft will be launched, replacing the DSCS and providing worldwide communications coverage.

The WGS combines commercial spacecraft capabilities and features eight steerable and shapeable X-band beams formed by separate transmit and receive phased arrays. In addition, the satellite has 10 steerable Ka-band beams that are served by independently steerable, diplexed gimbaled dish antennas, including three with selectable polarization. It also includes one X-band Earth coverage beam. Onboard the craft is a digital channelizer that divides the uplink bandwidth into more than 1,500 independently routable 2.6 megahertz subchannels.

The WGS-1 launched aboard a U.S. Air Force evolved expendable launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in October 2007. It underwent extensive testing before being activated in mid April, when it began providing coverage over the Pacific theater of operations. Last month, a ribbon-cutting ceremony marked activation of the satellite. Although the WGS-1 provides coverage over the U.S. Pacific Command’s (PACOM’s) area of operations, the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) is the combatant command responsible for WGS-1 operation.

Brig. Gen. Ronald M. Bouchard, USA, director, J-6, PACOM, relates that the activation process required a tremendous amount of coordination from many organizations located around the world—from Washington, D.C., to Korea. “A couple of stumbling blocks appeared at the last minute, but we prevailed,” he says. The stumbling blocks the general is referring to include failing to follow activation instructions and making unauthorized equipment configuration changes.

Currently, the DSCS constellation provides super high frequency wideband communications. Lt. Col. Michael Perry, USA, chief, SATCOMSupportCenter branch, STRATCOM, explains that the WGS-1 has the capabilities of the entire DSCS constellation, not only in throughput but also in operational flexibility. Warfighters in current operations can now pass more information faster and more efficiently, he adds.

For example, the WGS-1 provides warfighters with cross-banding capabilities, so an X-band terminal can communicate with a Ka-band terminal and vice versa. The WGS constellation will maintain interoperability with existing and programmed X- and Ka-band satellite terminals. Also, the steerable beams enable the military to direct the beams to areas where they are most needed, Col. Perry relates.

In addition to improving communications for warfighters in current operations, the WGS-1 will be particularly beneficial to the U.S. Navy in an operational area that covers 50 percent of the Earth’s surface and is predominately covered in water. Capt. Kevin Johnson, USN, current operations coordination and execution lead, Naval Network Warfare Command, explains that the satellite is a tremendous first step in improving the Navy’s communications both afloat and ashore. “It will not only improve our tactical communications but also will allow us to conduct our logistics and other routine communications in a timelier manner,” Capt. Johnson says. In addition, the improved capability will give sailors more flexibility to complete online training courses and communicate with their families, he notes.

Navy Carrier Strike Groups and Expeditionary Strike Groups will use the WGS to provide high-capacity connectivity between ships and into the terrestrial portion of the Defense Information Systems Network. Ships operating in the western Pacific will be the first to use the new satellites; the USS Fitzgerald was the first ship to access the WGS-1 during the transition to operational status.

The WGS supports the Navy’s warfighting communications requirements, including the execution of tactical command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. The capabilities the satellite system provides also will assist the service in sharing battle management and combat support information. “We’ll be closely monitoring the transition to WGS to ensure that we are using it to its fullest capacity, and we are eagerly awaiting WGS-2, WGS-3 and the rest of the WGS constellation,” Capt. Johnson states.

While the WGS-1 enhances communications capabilities in the Pacific, the WGS-2 and WGS-3 will improve capabilities in the Indian and Atlantic oceans. Both are scheduled for launch later this year. Plans call for WGS-4, -5 and -6 to be launched in 2011, 2012 and 2013, respectively.

Launch and activation of the WGS-1 is the culmination of 10 years of cooperative work. The U.S. Air Force Space Command, STRATCOM, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command and the Boeing Company, which developed the spacecraft’s capabilities, were all involved in the effort.