This week I was honored to speak on a panel at the Satellite 2016 show at National Harbor across the Potomac from Washington, DC. The subject of the panel was government airborne satellite services. Civil and military use of airborne platforms equipped with satellite terminals continues to expand, fueling an accelerating demand for beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) satellite communications bandwidth and specialized terminals. Commercial satellite communications are a critical enabler of these operations, supporting broadband communications and the transfer of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance data and other mission critical information. When looking at airborne satellite services, it’s important first to understand the term is not homogeneous. I typically think of it in terms of three main types or “buckets” of airborne satellite services:
- Unmanned, or remotely piloted, vehicles – both larger legacy platforms, for example the multiple Predator, Reaper, and Gray Eagle variants, and emerging small scale, tactical Class III platforms that can be launched and recovered by small teams in the field
- Airborne en-route communications – often used by senior government leaders and offering services consistent with what they have on the ground, including video teleconferencing.
- Manned ISR – growing and bandwidth-intensive operations which, like unmanned ISR, put the majority of the throughput demand in the opposite direction— off the platform in this case — than traditional two way data communications like broadband
- The military and government aero services market is a quickly growing area where there is room for a few different technologies, architectures and services models
- Interoperability is important and this is not so much a technical challenge, but one of service management
- Most users rightly do not care about technology, frequency band, etc. – they need to meet their mission objectives with a solution that delivers the proper value and capability