Netherlands Melds Satellite Communications

April 2006
By Adam Baddeley

Thirty-seven new tri-band tactical terminals, recently tested in NATO Response Force exercises, will support X-band military satellite communications and C- and Ku-band communications from commercial satellites.
Multinational cooperation extends capabilities.

Under a new joint and integrated framework, the Netherlands military is addressing its traditional fragmented satellite communications capabilities by consolidating existing commercial C- and Ku-band satellite communications. The framework involves using flexible and more cost-effective arrangements and infrastructure. A prime strategy is to extend robust     X-band military satellite communications usage from a limited shipborne-only role to the air force and army by purchasing capacity on the United Kingdom’s new Skynet 5 private finance initiative. In addition, the country is inserting new capabilities through participation in the U.S. Advanced Extremely High Frequency Program as an international partner. This mix of media is designed to provide flexible, available and assured beyond line-of-sight connectivity to Dutch forces.

When discussing military satellite communications (MILSATCOM), Capt. Hans van der Wal, RNLN, project manager, Netherlands MILSATCOM, Royal Netherlands Navy, explains that previous arrangements were very much ad hoc and dispersed. “Small contracts for each service were the norm, and there were often different contracts even within each service,” he says. The captain is in charge of the Netherlands Joint MILSATCOM Project Office representing each of the three services implementing major changes in the strategy and practice of provisioning.

Lt. Col. Chris Groot, RNLAF, project officer, Netherlands MILSATCOM, Royal Netherlands Air Force, explains that this is a “purple project” for all three services with requirements being developed separately by a single joint office under the Defense Staff. “It is part of a recent large-scale reorganization in our defense structure,” he says.

“Of course, if you ask the users in the field what they want, they [simply want] communications and are not overly interested in exactly what that is. However, at a higher level, a clear policy on what they should have available is needed,” Col. Groot says. He adds that the Joint Project Office’s approach is endorsed by Parliament. The U.S. Advanced Extremely High Frequency Program (AEHF) is to be used for strategic and high-level secure communications with X-band providing assured MILSATCOM, but it is predominantly a fixed capacity with commercial satellite communications providing the on-call capacity, he adds.

Capt. van der Wal says that as far as MILSATCOM is concerned, it has been X-band only and used purely by the Navy. A MILSATCOM approach was adopted because of assured availability—commercial satellite communications coverage is not always available at sea, he says.

The capability has been delivered via a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the United Kingdom to use its Skynet 4 constellation. This contract, however, came to an end in March 2006. The MILSATCOM Project Office is now working on a new contract with Paradigm Secure Communications, the U.K. company supplying the successor Skynet 5 system. Under the private finance initiative, Paradigm has assumed responsibility for the legacy Skynet 4 service and will supplement and ultimately replace them with three new Skynet 5 satellites.

“One of the specifics of the deal is that we require a ‘letter of comfort’ from the U.K. Ministry of Defence stating that in case of any ‘pain’ when demand for bandwidth is high, that pain will be divided equally. That is, all users will get the same service, rather than the main customer having a privileged position,” Capt. van der Wal says.

Paradigm has agreed to charge the Netherlands for X-band usage at the Skynet 5 prices, although the Skynet 5A satellite will not be available until spring 2007. The contract either will be for three years with options for an additional two years or a directive five-year contract. Demands will be reviewed annually for the next calendar year.

The X-band capacity is being extended by the introduction of 37 tri-band tactical terminals that support commercial C and Ku bands as well as X band. The towed terminals were delivered between October 2004 and October 2005 by ND Satcom as prime contractor and partners L-3 Communications and Stork.

Although Dutch forces use Iridium, Inmarsat and a number of smaller on-demand satellite-based telephone systems, current satellite communications requirements are largely either on platforms or with headquarters. The project office plans to acquire super high frequency manpack terminals using the Skynet 4/5 X-band feeds in 2007 through 2009.

While commercial satellite communications pose fewer problems in availability than military counterparts, managing the costs is a challenge. Lessons have been learned and are being forwarded to the Joint Program Office to reduce the overall cost to users.

“What we have really done is get a better understanding of what cost drivers are in the commercial satellite communications world. The big cost drivers are acquiring communications on standby,” Capt. van der Wal states. “If you want to have communications up within six hours, it will cost considerably more than if you do that on a routine basis and need that capacity on say six days per month. It is the engineering cost to get access to the satellites on short-term notice that is very costly.”

The captain explains that in the next few weeks the team will sign a contract with Newskies, one of four global fleets offering fixed satellite services, enabling the armed forces to call upon satellite communications more easily.

The project offices have sought to test its concept of operation aggressively in exercises and real-world events. The first major test took place at a NATO Response Force (NRF) exercise in April 2005. “We used multiple SATCOM terminals and our anchor station to provide communications between the different entities. We had three terminals in the Canary Islands, one terminal in Naples and one terminal with the German Netherlands headquarters in Munster. For our back link to the Netherlands, we used our anchor station in Lauwersmeer,” the captain relates.

“We proved that the systems of putting multiple terminals within either one beam or in different beams worked well and delivered sufficient means of communication for our troops. We were using commercial SATCOM and our terminals, and it worked as anticipated,” he adds. Another opportunity to test the concept arose shortly afterward with a second exercise, this time in Norway with NRF forces operating in a 600-square-kilometer (370-square-mile) area around Oslo.

Dutch forces are active around the world as shown here in Iraq, resulting in growing demand for assured reach-back to the Netherlands.
The responsiveness of the system also was tested during the celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in May 2005. During his visit to Europe, President Bush visited Limburg, a province in the south of the Netherlands. Col. Groot explains that the president’s visit demonstrated that the thinking about the operational ways of using the systems worked well. “There was concern that the communications between the different security agencies working there [were not] sufficiently independent. On May 1st, only three days before the event took place, we received orders to provide those communications, via SATCOM, which we did by using the new tactical terminals and the anchor terminals at Lauwersmeer. This also proved our ability in obtaining bandwidth at short notice,” he notes.

The heart of the service’s satellite communications infrastructure is the new anchor station facility at Lauwersmeer. Built in 2002 and declared operational in 2004, it was procured within the same contract as the tactical terminals. Today, it consists of four antennas and will be expanded as further satellite communications capability is rolled out.

“We had always foreseen that for the short term it was sufficient but for the longer term project we would need a second X-band antenna to service both the navy and army. In due time, it will expand further with an AEHF capability. It will become more appropriate once the contract is in place and Skynet 5 becomes available. By summer 2007, we anticipate that the second X-band antenna as well as an X-band antenna in the Caribbean will be completed,” Col. Groot offers.

The adoption of the U.S. AEHF satellite service offers critical new capability for the Netherlands armed forces, giving them a capacity to use the eXtended Data Rate (XDR) extremely high frequency waveform. Capt. van der Wal explains that the Netherlands signed up for AEHF through the development and fielding MOU in November 2002. “By signing the MOU, we effectively bought ourselves a piece of capacity on the satellite,” the captain explains. “Interoperability with the United Kingdom, United States and Canada, who are in the AEHF project, is a big issue.” The MOU permits only international partners use of the XDR waveform from AEHF satellites, rather than the legacy current low data rate (LDR) and medium data rate (MDR) feeds from the MILSTAR constellation.

The three AEHF satellites are planned for launch in April 2008, 2009 and 2010. Capt. van der Wal explains that the second satellite, as it is currently planned, is due in 2009, scheduled to be operational by the beginning of 2010 and will cover the European sector. “The first launch is an AEHF, but it supports low data rate and medium data rate only. By the time of the advent of the second satellite in 2010, the first one will be upgraded to XDR. So, effectively by 2010, we will have two satellites in the air with XDR capability,” the captain notes.

On January 20, 2006, the Terminal Project Office in the United States signed its first contractual arrangement regarding AEHF terminals. The foreign military sales case, signed with the U.S. Defense Department in early 2005, will enable the acquisition of seven secure mobile antijam reliable tactical terminals (SMART-T) from Raytheon Company for use by the Dutch air force and army in the ground role. It concerns a so-called international partner variant—XDR only—of the AEHF terminal procured by both Canada and the Netherlands.

The Netherlands navy plans to acquire terminals from the U.S. Navy Multiband Terminal (NMT) Program for use on four De Zeven Provincien-class air defense and command frigates as well as an additional terminal in Lauwersmeer for all NMT and SMART-T feeds.

“We currently foresee that the first NMT delivery will be one of the early delivery terminals in 2010, and that will go into our anchor station [Lauwersmeer]. The remaining terminals from the full production line will be available from 2012. We foresee their delivery at a rate of one terminal per year, but we have to fine-tune that with navy maintenance schedules,” Capt. van der Wal says.

Discussing cooperation among the three international partners, Col. Groot states that it has thus far been limited. “We have our meetings together and of course our requirements are discussed, and the three of us make a bigger push than ourselves alone. If, however, you talk about spares and test cases and how that is going to be divided, then that is not really in place,” he says.

“One collective achievement has been the international partner variant of the SMART-T with the LDR/MDR removed, whose development we split with the Canadians. We also collectively looked into the possibility of developing a customized trailer. In the Netherlands services, we aim at limiting the variety of vehicles and will therefore not procure HMMWV’s [high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles] that come with these terminals. The United Kingdom is not acquiring land-based AEHF terminals. In contrast, the NMT program, which will be software-communications-architecture-compliant, will differentiate between U.S. and international terminals via software,” the colonel notes.

The original requirements for AEHF were more expansive with a threefold increase in ground terminal infrastructure over today’s planned levels. Requirements were subsequently revised downward. Capt. van der Wal explains why. “[Among] the drivers for redefining our requirement were the price and availability figures given by the United States, as well as a better insight in the capabilities of AEHF communication. The entire spectrum of MILSATCOM requirements, both space and ground segments, was reconsidered and redefined. We believe we now procure a right mix of media capabilities to meet current and foreseeable requirements as depicted by the Defense Staff,” he says.

Influencing U.S. decisions on successor networks such as Transformational Satellite Communications, or TSAT, is an issue the team accepts as difficult. “You can see AEHF as at least offering an entry into the world thereafter, a stepping stone,” the    captain relates.

Further network considerations come from NATO under its SATCOM Post 2000 requirement. Having recently opted to replace its current Skynet 4-based network of satellites with a tripartite super high frequency/ultrahigh frequency solution using the United Kingdom’s Skynet 5, France’s Syracuse 3 and Italy’s Sicral networks, it is now considering how best to acquire an extremely high frequency network. Subject to a decision by the alliance, the Netherlands will extend its extremely high frequency platforms.

“The decision of equipping our second amphibious transport dock ship with AEHF is linked with the way NATO is going with EHF,” Capt. van der Wal says. Pending NATO’s decisions in this area, this platform might be equipped with an AEHF terminal in a later stage. The captain offers his own view on this outcome. “It is hard to imagine that NATO would go in a direction that would not be interoperable with the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and us,” he predicts.


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