DOD sings satellite bandwidth blues

Military satellite strategists complained yesterday at the MilSat Forum in Washington that 'we don't have enough bandwidth.' One, however, qualified that to mean user-perceived throughput.

Mike Gipson, associate director of combat support at the U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., said he is constantly juggling bandwidth. Even with 35 satellites flying in MilSat constellations, 'we have to direct the best birds to the highest-priority needs,' Gipson said.

The Defense Department last year launched four satellites, he said, two of them to support the Army's Central Command in Operation Iraqi Freedom. DOD has $20 billion worth of hardware in orbit plus $7 billion worth of terrestrial management, he said, but even so DOD had to buy an additional $400 million worth of commercial satellite services in 2003.

'Wideband satellite is the workhorse of Central Command,' Gipson said. Soldiers and commanders are using it for surveillance, reconnaissance, imagery, videoconferencing, graphics and collaboration. Their bandwidth appetite is limitless and voracious, he said, far exceeding that 13 years ago in Operation Desert Storm.

'We've launched the last of the Milstar, UFO and Discos birds,' he said. The next-generation military satellites, known as Wideband Gapfiller, Mobile User Objective System and Advanced EHF (extremely high frequency), will be capable of laser intercommunications and, he said, could serve '4,000 simultaneous networks and 6,000 users per satellite.'

Gary W. Blohm, director of space and terrestrial communications at the Army's Research, Development and Engineering Command at Fort Monmouth, N.J., said the Army is 'spread very thin with asymmetric attacks and urban peacekeeping. We no longer need just reachback' to the brass, but 'satcom on the move, peer to peer.'

Blohm said he wants 'hundreds of robust, small-aperture terminals less than a foot in diameter and capable of transmitting tens of kilobits to a megabit per second.' He said such terminals should take only a minute or so to configure or be 'self-organizing with intelligent agents for smart handoffs.'

Something else on his wish list, he said, is a fast-recovery modem, and 'I cannot get enough help on antennas. I'd like a satcom antenna on every Army vehicle.'

The wish list continued as Michelle Bailey, program manager for Navy Satellite Communications Systems, reminded the industry audience that throughput'not bandwidth'is what matters to the user.

'We need management schemes, compression, Web caching, link acceleration and efficient encoding schemes,' she said. 'The problem is that the Navy's 20-year-old infrastructure and encryption requirements prevent me from using some of your nifty schemes' for boosting throughput.

Her satellite wish list included:

  • Better prioritization and tagging schemes''The commanding officer doesn't always send the top-priority messages,' she said

  • Plug-and-play terminal connectivity

  • Surge capacity, possibly from leasing spare and excess satellite capacity

  • One-touch-on, autoconfiguration and identical terminal operation

  • Online training

  • Autoupdated software

  • Sensing and notifying before failure

  • Ability to receive all frequencies by pointing in one direction at the sky

  • Multispectral cross-banding and 'as many transponders as possible.'

  • 'I'm delighted to talk with you,' she told the vendors, 'as long as you understand the Navy's requirements. Do your homework. Please don't waste our time.'

    In other satellite news this week, Hughes Network Systems Inc. of Germantown, Md., said it will promote the industry standard called IP over Satellite, or IPoS, through multitiered licensing to broadband satellite vendors.

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