• U.S. military leaders intend to use new satellite constellations designed for Internet of Things purposes to enable greater SATCOM on the battlefield. To do that, Army researchers are developing advanced ground terminal technologies. Courtesy photo by United Launch Alliance
     U.S. military leaders intend to use new satellite constellations designed for Internet of Things purposes to enable greater SATCOM on the battlefield. To do that, Army researchers are developing advanced ground terminal technologies. Courtesy photo by United Launch Alliance

IoT Brings SATCOM Down to Earth

December 31, 2020
By George I. Seffers
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New satellite systems spur ground station advances.


Technological leaps in ground station capabilities will enable the U.S. Army to use new Internet of Things satellite constellations to boost combat communications. Innovative capabilities offer lower latency, higher throughput and greater network resilience with ease of use.

Recent Army experiments, including the Network Modernization Experiment and Project Convergence, have included a range of technologies for enhancing and protecting satellite communications (SATCOM). The capabilities will support the service’s modernization goals such a more resilient network, long-range precision fires, and air and missile defense.

Russia, China and the United States are racing to develop and deploy hypersonic missiles capable of traveling at more than five times the speed of sound. These projectiles could hit targets literally thousands of miles away, making reliable, long-range communication between troops and countries more essential than ever. “Having that real-time information, eyes-on information or just-in-time information is critical,” says Chief Warrant Officer 5 Chris Westbrook, USA, senior technical adviser, Army Network Cross Functional Team.

“We have spent an enormous amount of effort over the past 20 years to be able to have more precise fires, so you reduce the damage to local communities, the damage to noncombatants. We want to make sure we’re hitting the enemy and just the enemy, if it’s within our ability to do so,” CW5 Westbrook says.

“So, we have to have all of the pertinent facts—the relevant, time-sensitive facts—able to be distributed.” CW5 Westbrook says, emphasizing the precision part of the Army’s long-range, precision fires vision.

To achieve its goals, the Army is exploring new satellites being launched to allow Internet of Things capabilities for commercial and private use. Companies such as SpaceX, Telesat, ViaSat and Inmarsat are competing to provide coverage across the planet.

Rich Hoffman says a capability like this could have been developed a couple of years ago—or even now; however, it would be too expensive to field. Hoffman is the protected SATCOM lead within the Army’s Command and Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) Center. “There’s things like passive phased arrays and lens technologies, new manufacturing processes, new and cheaper chip sets with different properties that all are combining to make this a feasible thing for us to do,” he adds.

Military forces face greater challenges than the average cellphone user, he adds. For example, warfighters must communicate while on the move, and they need equipment tough enough to endure harsh battlefield conditions. “We have other requirements like on-the-move, ruggedization and security. Right now, we’re evaluating all these outstanding new technologies,” Hoffman adds. “They’re making things cheaper. They’re making things faster. They’re even making things more protected in some cases.”

The overall goal for protected SATCOM is an easy-to-use network that offers greater resiliency. “This means automated systems protecting links and managing connections to build a resilient network for the soldiers and the Army applications required to fight,” Hoffman explains. “We started out with a detailed threat analysis for threats today and into the future, and we came up with a multitiered approach to adding resiliency to wide-band SATCOM.”

Fortunately for future warfighters, those advances in space are accompanied by advances on the ground. The envisioned resilient SATCOM network involves processing technologies to support link protection, including interference cancellation. When that is not enough, warfighters will rely on multiple connections that are autonomously managed—a concept known as resiliency through diversity.

To learn when the Army will be introducing these and other SATCOM advances in SIGNAL Magazine’s January issue, which will be available online on January 4.

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