Academic journal article Parameters

Exploiting Commercial SATCOM: A Better Way

Academic journal article Parameters

Exploiting Commercial SATCOM: A Better Way

Article excerpt

Since the late 1980s, elements of the Department of Defense and the US intelligence community have used commercial satellite communications (SATCOM) to augment their organic SATCOM capabilities. Following the Persian Gulf Conflict of 1990-91, Congress directed the DOD to pursue greater use of commercial SATCOM, providing $15 million in the fiscal year 1992 Defense appropriation in order for DOD "to study ways of using commercial communication satellite capabilities" and "begin moving aggressively toward maximum utilization of commercial satellite communications systems." (1) In 1997, the senior communications flag officers of the military services committed the military to the long-term employment of commercial satellite communications to augment military owned and operated SATCOM systems. (2) The Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) endorsed this decision in October 1997. (3) Today, the Defense Department continues to expand its use of commercial satellite communications; however, DOD's approach for leasing commercial SATCOM is inefficient and expensive.

Joint Vision 2020 identifies continuous information superiority as an essential element of US warfighting for the first part of the current century. (4) The various service requirements to pass information between dispersed, mobile elements, as in the Army's concept for the Future Force and the Navy's vision for Network-Centric Warfare, rely on information superiority. (5) The result is that the US military's need to pass large amounts of information (hundreds and soon thousands of megabits per second) will continue to grow. Only space-based communications can meet this need. Although the military is undertaking an effort to greatly increase the information-carrying capacity of its organic military SATCOM (MILSATCOM) systems, the Transformational Communications Office will not be able to deliver a functional worldwide system until sometime in the second decade of this century. (6)

Until such new capabilities are available--and quite probably even after they are, the Defense Department will require commercial SATCOM to complement its military systems to fully meet its needs for transmitting information among deployed forces and between deployed forces and the sustaining base in the United States. In 1997, military communications planners projected that the growing demand within the military for satellite communications would consistently exceed the capacity of available military systems. Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom have more than validated this projection. Before Operation Enduring Freedom, the greatest demand US Central Command (CENTCOM) projected for information transfer using SATCOM was 500 megabits (million bits) per second (Mbps) and it routinely used about 100 Mbps. Shortly after the operation commenced, however, CENTCOM identified that its forces needed not less than 500 Mbps and potentially more than one gigabit (one billion bits) per second (Gbps). The required increase in SATCOM capacity was met by leasing it from commercial industry.

As shown in Figure 1, the demand for SATCOM by deployed military forces has grown markedly since Operation Desert Storm in 1991. This has been the case even though the number of deployed forces in operations since Desert Storm has been smaller, often much smaller. A good way to assess the trend in the military's demand for satellite communications is to look at the amount of SATCOM required to support a consistently-sized increment of military forces. Figure 1 and Figure 2 are based on historical information regarding the SATCOM actually used, which is available from US Strategic Command, DOD's SATCOM operational manager. They show that since 1991 the satellite communications required to support an increment, or force package, of 5,000 deployed military members has increased from 1 Mbps during Operation Desert Storm to an initial assessment of about 51 Mbps during Operation Iraqi Freedom. …

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