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Airborne ISR meets Satcom

Nov. 4, 2013 - 01:47PM   |  
By RICK LOBER   |   Comments
Rick Lober is vice president and general manager, Defense and Intelligence Systems Division, Hughes. (File)
Rick Lober is vice president and general manager, Defense and Intelligence Systems Division, Hughes. (File) ()
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The means to maintaining our nationís physical and economic security have evolved as technology has evolved. Information is now the most valuable asset. The rapid development of advanced tools and tactics to gather, analyze and even steal data has forever changed the way we approach conflicts. The success of an operation ó and sometimes even the safety of warfighters or civilians ó is based on the ability to detect, deter or eliminate threats.

This information battle is being fought in different ways ó over computer networks and in theater. In conflict zones or contested areas, information, surveillance and reconnaissance tools gather information using a number of platforms, including handheld devices, orbiting satellites and manned or unmanned aerial systems. Information is gathered to give warfighters critical intelligence and a tactical edge to meet the mission. ISR saves lives.

To achieve mission success, the government and military must partner with industry to help meet the large bandwidth gap that faces them today.

Satellite technology powers communication around the globe, enabling beyond-line-of-sight (BLoS), continuous connections on land, at sea or in the air. BLoS communication is especially important in our current conflict zones, which have urban and mountainous regions that block traditional line-of-sight signals.

The Defense Departmentís Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) program continues to expand its satellite fleet. However, in recent years, it has been faced with a bandwidth shortage as UASs threaten to use up to 80 percent of the constellationís bandwidth. Consequently, many UASs are now operated by secure commercial satellite communication systems (SATCOM), which offer higher capacity, increased capabilities and significant cost savings through bandwidth efficient technologies.

As UASs continue to evolve, there has been an increased effort to use helicopters for ISR missions. Recent developments in advanced waveforms have overcome the challenge of transmitting through rotor blades, enabling both manned and unmanned rotary aircraft to be a new asset in the airborne ISR arsenal, employing antennas located directly under the rotor blades. The result is seamless transmissions with zero packet loss.

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Commercial SATCOM also has made significant investment in Ka-band technology, as evidenced by recent launches of high-throughput satellites such as JUPITER 1 from Hughes, with well over 100 gigabits per second capacity.

The market will see continued expansion of Ka-band satellite capacity around the globe, and operating in similar frequency bands as WGS. Hence, the Defense Department will have even greater flexibility to help meet its bandwidth gaps. As an added bonus, new Ka-band systems are generations ahead of many airborne Ku-band applications, offering dramatically increased efficiency and reliability.

So what does this mean for airborne ISR? In short, it means warfighters can transmit full-motion video, data and voice to the ground and back to command centers from a variety of manned or unmanned aircraft, allowing them to see what obstacles may be ahead. Commercial SATCOM is the answer to the militaryís airborne ISR challenge.

Commercial partners can provide the security, support and bandwidth efficient technologies to help reduce costs, which will continue to be vital, especially in this austere budget environment.■

Rick Lober is vice president and general manager, Defense and Intelligence Systems Division, Hughes.

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