BATTLESPACE Editor Julian Nettlefold visited Spectra Group at their Kingstone, Herefordshire, UK HQ to meet CEO and Founder Simon Davies.
Founded in 2002, Spectra Group (UK) is a leading provider of secure voice, data and satellite communications, for locations with limited or compromised infrastructure. At the centre of Spectra’s service delivery is its Network Operations Centre (NOC). Using an extensive suite of tools, Spectra’s experienced NOC staff monitor the services and provide a helpdesk function to customers. In October 2015, Spectra earned the right to display the coveted British Assessment Bureau ISO 27001 certification mark to demonstrate its conformance to the standard. Spectra’s achievement builds on the existing ISO 9001 it already holds.
“How is Spectra structured and how many people do you employ?” The Editor asked.
“Spectra boasts an experienced, largely specialist ex-military, personnel that takes pride in, and ownership for, the services we provide. They understand the critical nature of providing reliable communications in remote and hostile areas. As a result, they operate in a proactive manner to resolve issues, before problems arise. We now employ 26 people and have a turnover in excess of £10 million,” said Simon Davies.
“Can you give an outline as to your customers and international sales?”
“We work with a global partner networks, such as Inmarsat and Airbus, selling our products to every continent with customers in Europe, the Middle East, Far East, Australasia, Africa and North and South America. Demonstrating this growth, we were recognised as a 2015 Top Ten Global Government Partner by Inmarsat, the leading commercial global satellite network company.”
“Could you give us an outline as to your capabilities?”
“Spectra Group is a leading international provider to Defence and Security, Aid and Emergency, as well as commercial organisations, of secure voice, data and satellite communications in locations with limited or compromised infrastructure. Our ground-breaking SlingShot® system, which is a straightforward and cost-effective way to achieve tactical, secure, beyond line of sight, communications on the move, using UHF and VHF radios, currently exclusively uses the Inmarsat L-TAC™ service, whilst the growing popularity of the SHADE (Spectra Hostile Area Deployment Environment) has led to record airtime revenues, reflected in the Inmarsat award.”
“What is your vision for the future and how will Spectra’s products change the nature of the battlefield?”
“During my time serving in the British Army, I saw that the current tactical systems in service needed enhancements to provide wider and better coverage, particularly using satcom. To that end, I established Spectra in 2002. During that time, particularly in Afghanistan, where the terrain and mountainous regions denied the use of line-of-sight communications, the nature of conflict has changed and so have the information requirements of the commander right through to the front line soldier. Now, more than ever, the provision of reliable and resilient voice and data communications is essential at the tactical level. With a number of its personnel boasting a military background, Spectra has first-hand knowledge of the true value in having such services available, and the damaging effects of failure.”
“What are the particular areas of expertise within Spectra?”
“We work in three key areas – defence, natural disaster and aid provision. Spectra leads in the design and delivery of voice and data services for areas that have little or no communications infrastructure – predominantly in remote environments or environments that have been destroyed by natural disaster or conflict. As the frequency of major disasters, health crises and conflicts globally grows apace, so does the demand for humanitarian assistance. With loss of electricity, shortage of food and water supplies, and human lives at risk, aid agencies and other non-governmental organisations face a lack of basic security and secure communications, which hinders their success and can ultimately result in the loss of life. To overcome this problem, Spectra has developed a number of secure, robust and reliable communications solutions, to aid co-ordination and protect all field workers in unstable environments.”
“What would you say is your most important product to date?”
“Without doubt, SlingShot. Developed in 2013, and now sold across the world to a number of key users including Special Forces, we have sold 2000 systems to date and are expecting a large order in the very near future from an overseas customer. The requirement was to deliver the benefits of UHF TacSat at a greatly reduced cost and without the limitation that exists on the number of available channels. SlingShot delivers this by attaching a small and lightweight appliqué by coax to the radio’s antenna connection. The appliqué converts the radio frequency to L-Band SATCOM frequency for both voice and data. The system is being evaluated by the UK MoD to enhance the existing Bowman system to take the system to the level required by the new Morpheus Requirement.”
SlingShot, a small external adaptor for military radios, allows low-latency voice and data regional communications, with the additional option of connecting to an out-of-theatre rear-base command node. Using Inmarsat’s world leading satellite communications network, SlingShot gives the unique capability to access single-hop L-L band relay from an existing global constellation of geostationary satellites. An Aviation capability was launched at DSEI in 2015. SlingShot is radio agnostic and can be bolted onto existing tactical radios without compromising the crypto system. The SlingShot capability delivers a tactical command and control COTM system to complement UHF TacSat. Conceived and designed in direct response to military requirements, it already offers clear benefits to those engaged in high-tempo operations, which require reliable and robust BLOS COTM.
“What is the key to Slingshot’s technology?”
“First and foremost its simplicity and small-form factor. Using SlingShot, operators do not have to learn the operation of a new radio, so deployment training is minimal and costs are low. The L-Band omni-directional antennae also deliver true COTM, no need to pause, locate and fix the satellite beam, at any speed. SlingShot uses Inmarsat’s L-TAC™ which provides a flexible service to cater for current, high tempo, operational requirements. The nature of the coverage offered by L-TAC allows beams to be booked on a monthly basis and with the capability of having large, narrow beams, or more specific, multi-headed beams. Such flexibility greatly adds to the ability to move fast and respond to adapting situations. The I4 satellite constellation covers most of the globe, with the poles being the exception. Inmarsat’s L-TAC service delivers dedicated bandwidth or, in other words, is not contended. This guarantees quality of service and, combined with the SlingShot system, means that even on the edges of the beam, voice and data communication is not compromised. Recent tests proved this at 82 degrees latitude.”
“How many SlingShot variants are offered?”
“We started with Manpack, Vehicle and Maritime systems. The new Aviation capability now offers the same Command and Control Communications of other units, no matter where they are, to each other and to airborne platforms, without the necessity for land-based radio re-broadcast stations. Unlike other BLOS systems, SlingShot delivers robust voice and data COTM (communications on the move) and now with our development in aviation we can provide the same capability on both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.”
“Do you see SlingShot being a key part of the UK MoD Morpheus Requirement?”
“The MoD and GDUK has shown great interest in SlingShot and we believe that SlingShot provides greatly enhanced capability to the current Bowman system and see it fitting well as a “quick win” if Morpheus at pace is adopted. It was trialled with great success on a recent 3 Commando Brigade demo at Plymouth. This was an HQ Army sponsored trial designed and monitored by Dstl.”
Other Spectra Products
Other products include the Spectra Hostile Area Deployment Environment (SHADE) and enables rapid deployment and delivery of secure voice and data services across any available bearer. It’s perfect for small teams requiring 24/7 availability, plug and play communications set-up and remote management.
Satellite Services and IT Networks
As well as developing products, Spectra has broadened its capabilities to provide satellite services and the supply of static and deployable IT Networks, the UK MoD is a customer for these services.
Spectra is a world leader in providing Added Value services across satellite communication bearers globally. The company uses the Inmarsat BGAN services for small, lightweight, very portable applications and VSAT services for higher bandwidth applications in relatively static locations.
An integral part of this added value satellite service offering is our 24/7 Network Operations Centre (NOC) based at the Hereford facility which provides monitoring, helpdesk support and fault resolution to all satellite deployed assets.
There is little doubt to the capability of Spectra which has grown significantly since BATTLESPACE visited in 2010. The technology developments at Spectra have hit the ‘sweet spot’ for enhanced satcom requirements for armed forces, aid and emergency services around the world, so we will see a lot more of this company in the near future!