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By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.

07 May 14. Of all military capability required or demanded by UK armed forces none has greater significance than the ability to communicate information allowing commanders to plan and potentially act. Access to a constant stream of available intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data is crucial to troops on the ground in any theatre of war. Satellite Communications (SATCOM) is the only truly fast, reliable and efficient method that allows data to be transmitted to the various infrastructure used by the UK military today and that it is likely to deploy.

Modern warfare demands ever greater requirements for communications and data movement through command and control based systems than ever before. Whether the need is for operational communications, ISR or logistics, modern warfare is more ‘bandwidth hungry’ than ever before. Much wants more meaning that the need and requirement for SATCOM can be expected to be even greater in the years ahead. SATCOM is undoubtedly a very positive story in terms of UK technology and sovereign capability. We have and remain well ahead of the game with the absolutely brilliant hardened and protected SATCOM system known as Skynet 5. The future will demand even more and we must ensure that the lead and presence the UK has established in terms of SATCOM technology and sovereign capability is maintained.

Operations such as Herrick have shown that military SATCOM communications technology has been able to handle ever increasing rates of usage and growth. That growth will continue as the need to supply troops, ships, aircraft and drones with ever increasing amounts of data continues to escalate. “We are still scratching the surface in terms of the amount of data that we will be expected to create and supply to those deployed in future wars compared to what we are doing now” was a very interesting remark made to me by a senior army officer very recently. He is right and just as a new motorway will quickly fill with traffic, the same is true of SATCOM communications technology.

While Skynet 5 still has ample capacity it is hugely important in my view that those charged with responsibility for the next generation of this crucial technology and capability realise that the appetite for new ISR and logistics based data applications and movement will continuing growing apace. Indeed, more than likely ten years from now the requirement for SATCOM military data transmission could well be as much as three times higher than it is today.

The military isn’t alone in using SATCOM technology as the capability is crucial also to banks, financial, insurance, energy, aerospace and airline industries to name but a few. But it is the military requirement that I focus on here and no matter where they serve or in whatever theatre of war, the UK military requirement to receive quality ISR, communications and logistics data transmission in a safe and secure manner through a hardened and well protected SATCOM system is of paramount importance. That is today what they receive through its unique partnership between the MOD and industry in Skynet 5.

The UK is fortunate in having ‘unique’ SATCOM capability in ‘Skynet 5’ and which remains the world’s first, and to date, most successful military SATCOM service. Skynet 5 is a model example in my view of just how a PFI (Private Finance Initiative) contract partnership between the military and industry really should work for the advantage of both parties to the agreement and in meeting affordability targets.
Accurate, timely delivery of secured information through a protected SATCOM system together with the ability to provide on-demand data communication to and from virtually all parts of the globe has come a very long way forward since the first SATCOM systems became available to the MOD twenty-five years ago. Used with great

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