EASING SATELLITE BEANDWIDTH RESTRICTIONS FOR MILITARY OPERATIONS
By David Furstenberg, Chairman of NovelSat, a satellite communications company
The unprecedented budgetary pressure imposed on the military and the Department of Defence, combined with the increasing need for additional satellite bandwidth, creates a growing gap between demand and availability. Bridging this gap is a major and pressing challenge for the defence sector.
To illustrate this point, one Global Hawk Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) requires about 500 Megabit per second (Mbps) of bandwidth – five times the entire bandwidth required by all of the US military during Operation Desert Stormi. During “Operation Enduring Freedom” the Pentagon could only deploy 4 (one half) of its available UAVs at any one time because there was not enough satellite bandwidth available to fly them allii. To run a modern war it was estimated that by 2010 the Pentagon would need approximately 16 Gbps of satellite bandwidth to support a large joint-service, while the DoD might have as low as 2Gbps at that time. These facts underline the serious impact that satellite bandwidth shortage is having on both air and ground force military operations around the globe today and why there is an urgent need to find ways of alleviate the shortage.
At the opening of the Dubai Air show last month French Air Chief of Staff General Jean-Paul Palomeros highlighted to an Air Chief’s conference the pressing problem of the shortage of satellite bandwidth, by saying that “A move to a new standard communications band is needed because of a saturation of current bandwidth. Increasingly relied-upon unmanned aerial vehicles such as Predators, Reapers and the French Harfang generate huge amounts of data, including full motion video, and complex sensors such as high definition video, laser designators, imaging radar, ground moving target indicators and multispectral images demand high bandwidth for transmission. Planners estimate a large bandwidth is needed because of a “multitasking of UAVs,” with many remote piloted vehicles being operated simultaneously. According to a report in ‘Defense News’ some 20 gigabits per second is needed to cope with the growing number of UAVs, which are swamping the current Ku bandwidth available on satellite communications links.”
UAV deployments gain momentum
The problem of bandwidth shortage is likely to be further compounded by the increasing move towards a greater use of UAVs on a global scale. UK forces have been using UAVs in the form of Reaper drones in Afghanistan since 2007 and in April this year the Secretary of State for Defence, Liam Fox MP committed £135 million to doubling the UK Reaper fleet to 10 by 2013. In the US, the Pentagon has recently announced its intentions of buying at least 50 more UAVs of the extended range category, signaling its focus shift towards more Communications-On-The-Move (COTM) for UAVs in the coming years. The inevitable outcome of this focus shift is that the numbers of concurrent UAV flights will more than double, leading to an even greater satellite bandwidth problem.
If further evidence were needed the graph above depicts the satellite bandwidth demand in Mbps against the growth of US military personnel. To make matters worse the chronic shortage of bandwidth is compounded by the sweeping defence budgetary cuts and a growing political unrest alongside mushrooming terrorist threats on a global level. In Britain this amounts to the slashing of defence spending by about eight percent in real terms over the next four years and in the US President Obama has asked congress to scale back defence spending by a massive $450 billion over the next decade.
Light at the end of the tunnel
So what can be done to alleviate the problem? Fortunately there is cause for optimism as a new, third generation, breakthrough satellite modulati