Navy, Air Force test satellite system for truly global mobile communications

Navy, Air Force test satellite system for truly global mobile communications

Satellites have long been part of the military toolbox, but they are becoming increasingly important for troops on the ground.  Satellite-based systems can now enable personnel to communicate even in extremely austere environments, where reliable real-time transmissions were  previously a pipe dream.

The Mobile User Objective System, for example, works much like a cell network -- but the infrastructure is orbiting 22,000 miles above Earth.  That system, which is being developed by the Navy, the Air Force Research Lab and Lockheed Martin, eventually will have four satellites that provide global 3G signal coverage for secure voice, text and data.  The satellites allow MUOS mobile devices – which currently resemble tactical radios, with still-smaller devices in development – to connect beyond line-of-sight around the globe. 

In July the system was tested in arguably the most austere environment on Earth –during Operation Deep Freeze, the annual resupply mission of the McMurdo and Amundsen-Scott Stations in Antarctica. The testing team was able to connect to the network within 20 minutes of arriving, and gathered data during the exercise that will be used to improve MUOS as it matures to full operation capability.

During the Navy’s 2014 Ice Exercise, the MUOS system similarly enabled users to access secure data for close to 150 hours in the Arctic.      

During the Antarctica tests, an Air Force Research Lab team found that MUOS provided 3G-quality voice, text and data service in a region in which no network or phones exist. That performance prompted Michael Gudaitis, AFRL team lead, to speculate on the potential commercial uses for such a system.  “On an airline flight you can't use your cell phone except in airplane mode…But with MUOS you can stay connected at all times,” he asserted.

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.


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