Getting creative to send more data to warfighters

As communication requirements grow, the military is striving to combine technologies and trim costs

Demand for satellite communications continues to grow, and there’s a push to get more information out to the edge, but fulfilling those needs will be difficult given the financial constraints that are also increasing. Creative use of the available technology and close communication between the military and commercial suppliers are necessary to provide more services while spending less.

Panelists at the LandWarNet 2011 conference in Tampa, Fla., detailed a number of possible solutions to these challenges on the morning of Aug. 22 during a user’s workshop sponsored by the Satellite Industry Association. They noted that major technical advances have made it possible to get data to warfighters even when they’re on the move. Those links are made possible in part by the shift to smaller antennas and receivers.


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“With WIN-T Increment 2, we’re getting an average of 48 small dishes down to the battalion division and 200 at the division level,” said Army Lt. Col. Robert Collins, product manager of WIN-T Increments 2/3.

Another aspect of this improved communications capability is the deployment of more satellites that offer increased bandwidth by using an array of communication schemes. The L band remains a mainstay, augmented by Ku and Ka bands, among others.

But as more links become available, it’s getting more difficult to squeeze all the necessary antennas and receivers onto vehicles that must carry more electronics and weaponry. That’s driving a need for multifunction strategies.

“Satellite communications diversity also means terminal diversity on the ground,” said John Munoz-Atkinson, director of global land programs for Inmarsat. “The question is, can we afford a separate terminal for every bandwidth?”

Military planners are already addressing this with plans to combine systems so they work with many technologies. Multifunction systems meet the needs of warfighters while also reducing costs by combining communications into a single network.

“We can’t afford more communication bands in the field,” said Edward Aymar, Senior MILSATCOM systems analyst for AONS. “Everything we do has to have a plan to go to an integrated network.”

The growing use of full-motion video is taxing existing networks. High-definition video provides a lot of helpful information, but it also requires a lot of bandwidth.

“When we first turned on our video system during our Network Integration Exercise, our bandwidth usage level shot up to 85 percent, up from 35 percent before that,” said Tim Hillner, senior radio engineer for Project Manager Warfighter Information Network - Tactical.

Ensuring that networks aren’t saturated is a key challenge for developers. Several panelists said they are working on techniques that make better use of the available bandwidth, regardless of whether it’s from satellites or terrestrial networks.

Data compression is one solution. Improved encoding schemes can also bring dramatic improvements by sending more data without requiring more bandwidth. That’s important because spectrum is limited, so it’s becoming much more valuable.

“Spectrum is congested. We as a community need to do a better job of mitigating the need for more spectrum. We also need to look at free space optical so we don’t need spectrum,” said Darren Leblanc, systems engineer for PM WIN-T. “Somebody has to be smart enough to leverage optical technology.”

About the Author

Terry Costlow is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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