Advancing Global Military Tactical Communications
Antenna Research Associates (ARA), based in Laurel, MD, is a privately owned Small Business entity with over 55 years of experience in successfully designing, developing, and manufacturing antennas and RF systems for both military and civilian applications. ARA’s antenna and RF systems are used across a multitude of industries including Communication Networks, Unmanned Air Systems, SATCOM, RADAR, RF Surveillance and Jamming for Electronic Warfare, Spectrum Operations and Border Patrol, Public Safety Networks, and Civilian markets.
Without a doubt, our industry is in a transition phase with multiple ongoing developments. The emergence of MEO/LEO HTS offerings, the decline of GEO and C-Band, innovation in the ground segment (electronically and optically steered Flat Panel Phased Array systems), new waveforms (NewTec Dialog and the DoD contracted PTES and PTW), a greater need for resiliency, a call for integrated solutions such as Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT), Digital IF requirements and corporate consolidations and/or closings and bankruptcies all add to chaos. The good news is we at ARA believe that this transition phase will, and is, leading to significant market growth - like the way the fiber/terrestrial market changed in the early 2000s.
Our research has shown that the global SATCOM industry will experience considerable growth post-pandemic with approximately 50% of the growth coming from the Defense Sector and the other 50% from the commercial sector.
Internet of Things (IOT) is one of the largest growth areas in the general Telecommunication industry with marketing analysts anticipating global revenues of over $265B by 2027. The emerging LEO market segment will play a significant role in overall commercial SATCOM market growth. LEO carriers and LEO terminals will drive the SATCOM portion of this growth.
There is a large market that is gone untapped, as nearly 4 billion people do not use the internet, with lack of access being the biggest factor. This factor leads industry chiefs to have optimism that LEO satellites can deliver on their broadband promise, but the path to commercial viability is littered with uncertainty and challenges. The future IoT world also provides the LEO/MEO/SmallSat market with optimism as it seems extremely well suited for this market.
Many analysts have cited the LEO market as being at the highest risk for recovery due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. The pandemic, combined with an already longer than expected development timeframe and budget overruns, has led to limited access of critical private funding necessary to develop the technology and network infrastructures. The pandemic has also led to significant supply chain issues for the foreseeable future (Supply Chain issues for FETs had already caused significant delays in SSPA/BUC delivery times pre-COVID-19).
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has also displayed skepticism and plans to limit satellite operators to lower speed and higher latency tiers in the upcoming Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) reverse auction. This is a setback for the industry as it suggests the FCC is unconvinced that LEO satellite operators will deliver on their speed and latency claims.
Furthermore, the space industry is concerned about the theoretical scenario called the Kessler syndrome, whereby the density of LEO satellites is high enough that collisions between them generate space debris that increase the likelihood of further collisions.
While GPS provides PNT data to both military and civilian users under normal conditions, it is subject to interference by adversaries. Recognizing the DoD’s reliance on GPS, potential adversaries are developing increasingly capable jammers and spoofers to deny the use of GPS data to our military forces. The denial, or disruption, of GPS creates serious issues for our military units in combat and during daily operations.
For this reason, the DoD is looking at OEMs to develop alternative PNT capabilities to complement GPS. Resulting alternative PNT sources would mitigate issues, even when GPS is available, to check the accuracy of each source, including GPS, and combine data to ensure accuracy in a degraded or denied GPS environment.
There is also a compelling case for transitioning military satellite communications (MILSATCOM) terminal architectures from conventional analog IF (Intermediate Frequency) formats to newer more capable Digital IF systems. This includes limited real estate, capacity, safety, OpEx, and resiliency/flexibility. Perhaps the biggest factor is resiliency/flexibility, as the advantages of Digital IF provides communications assurances during potential conflicts and threats from US enemies.
Digital IF has been shown to offer clear and substantial advantages in all aspects of MILSATCOM terminal activity and operations, from development to deployment, from signal quality to cost and footprint, including control, monitoring and alarm (CMA) systems to built-in test (BIT) features. Significant performance, cost and footprint advantages can be realized in terminals of all sizes, large, medium, and small. A Digital IF initiative can yield early and disproportionately high return on a modest investment. This is because relatively little new technology is required to begin the migration to all-digital MILSATCOM terminals. Such a migration offers clear paths to unprecedented growth of services to the warfighter. Work is now in progress to study digital IF architectures and to experimentally prototype digital terminal systems, subsystems, and signal formats.
SATCOM Terminal Trends
The Global SATCOM Terminal market is expected to reach annual revenues of $36.75B by 2026. The fastest growing market segment for SATCOM terminals is predicted to by the Maritime industry (CAGR: 13.3%), followed by Commercial (CAGR: 7.5%), Military (CAGR: 6.98%) and Aero (5.19% CAGR). However, the most profitable segment (i.e., highest profit margin) will remain the Military SATCOM market (for OEMs, not necessarily Resellers and Distributors). Interestingly however, the most profitable segment (i.e., highest profit margin) will remain the Military SATCOM market for OEMs.
By integrating an alternative PNT solution into a VSAT terminal that utilizes signals of opportunity (SoOP) from a combination of commercial and military space systems into a VSAT terminal, the DoD can mitigate GPS threat levels 4, 5, and 6 (See Figure ??).
Once terminals transition to digital waveform transport, MILSATCOM terminals can leverage advances in computing, IP, and Ethernet to achieve more capacity and bandwidth. This means more links per terminal and higher traffic throughput per link with no corresponding non-recurring engineering (NRE)
By moving the digital conversion as close to the antenna as possible, several efficiencies in SWAP and performance can be achieved. First, the individual converters can be replaced with wideband, multi-carrier digital up-and-down converters that are located with the antenna. Additionally, the complex switch matrix can be eliminated and replaced with a lightweight digital distribution system. The modem functions can also be consolidated into multi-card enclosures, where several carriers can be implemented on a single programmable processor card.
Tactical/Portable Terminal Trends
While there has been little innovation within this class of terminals, our research into the Tactical/Portable market shows the need for smaller, lighter, more easily deployed terminals (i.e., SWAP) with improved flexibility (such as multi-band capabilities). Consistent with their resiliency needs, the DoD is pushing for small Tri- or Quad-band, WGS/ARSTRAT certified, MIL-STD terminals. The DoD is also interested in ground terminals with integrated solution capabilities such as PNT, Digital IF and integrated Protected Wave Form (PTW) modems.
Like Tactical/Portable Manpack terminals, the Comms-on-the-Pause (COTP) terminals have seen few recent developments within this market segment.
Comms-On-The-Move Terminal Trends
The obvious trend in the (Comms-On-The-Move) COTM market segment is in flat panel antenna systems. The first adopter flat panel, phased array Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) employ a technology with an inherent limitation of operating only to a 30o look angle as compared to Bore Sight. These terminals also have limited gain capabilities. Another OEM is designing a still un-proven, optically steered phased array. Another issue for the flat panel market to overcome is in working with the FCC to gain approval for the inclusion of higher power BUCs (which as necessary to deliver higher Tx data rates), as the FCC is concerned with Spectral Density issues, side lobe performance, pointing constraints and potential ASI. However, there is several industry OEMs performing significant work to overcome these issues with great strides being made every quarter.
Alternative SATCOM Technologies
In an era when communication is the mainstay of warfare, relying on satellites is not enough, Troposcatter technology is making a comeback. Tropospheric communication systems utilize the lower portion of the earth’s atmosphere to transmit communication traffic to ranges of hundreds of kilometers. Significant technological progress made in recent years has enabled the development of modern tropospheric communication systems, capable of conveying bandwidths of up to 50 megabits per second to ranges of hundreds of kilometers. These systems are similar in size to the satellite communication systems and can utilize the same antennae used for tradition SATCOM. The new equipment offers advanced modulation methods, error correction codes, different frequencies, spatial separation, and other techniques enabling highly reliable, readily available communication year-round. Tropospheric advantages include:
- Stable communication regardless of a line of sight (long communication ranges of hundreds of kilometers with no need for relays).
- An independent communication channel with no need for third-party services (for example, satellite operators).
- Communication that does not depend on the availability of satellite resources.
- Secure communication,
- Difficult to Jam.
- Short delays,
- Up to about 20 milliseconds
In view of these advantages, numerous armed forces are acquiring tropospheric communication systems alongside their satellite communication systems, based on the understanding that these systems provide an additional tier that complements satellite communication, which is not always available. In combat zones, satellite resources are always in short supply and the needs far exceed the satellite resources available. Communication is costly in the long run, and there are applications that are sensitive to delays (such as the communication links between the Radar system and the launchers in Patriot SAM batteries). Tropospheric communication systems are being used more extensively in the civilian field as well, mainly by the oil and gas industry. Many oil drilling and exploration companies base their communication with their offshore drilling rigs, which are often located hundreds of kilometers away from the shore, on tropospheric communication systems.
ARA’s Plan to meet Market Challenges & Trends
By purchasing AQYR Technologies, Inc. in September 2020, Antenna Research Associates and AQYR are now aligned, positioned, and developing new integrated communications systems to better meet the Military’s ever-evolving requirements, focusing on added system/networking resiliency, performance, integrated solutions, and cost-effectiveness.
ARA Engineers are developing a Multi-Focal Feed in X-, Ku- and Ka-Bands for integration into a new AQYR VSATs. We are developing a single VSAT system that can support 12 different configurations in 2 transportable cases and can be set-up and pointed in under 10 minutes - the Saterra.
Optionally, the Saterra can have an integrated Alternative Positioning, Navigation and Timing Suite (APNT) suite and Digital IF options. With the optional APNT capability, AQYR VSAT systems will mitigate DoD GPS threat Levels 4, 5 and 6 (Long Local GPS Outages, Long Regional GPS Outages and Long Global GPS Outages, respectively) and is applicable to both the Military and Commercial markets (such as Strategic Commands, Satellite News Gathering, Land-based mining, Cruise, Oil & Gas, and Freight) markets).
The Saterra is additive to our recently released Typhoon Version 2.0, which is a Ku-Band VSAT that auto acquires in under two minutes.
Acknowledging that the Troposcatter market is making a comeback, ARA is working on a Transportable Multi-Band Troposcatter Terminal that will bring a new level of resilience and transportability to the marketplace. We envision a Troposcatter terminal that includes auto-acquisition / auto-track capabilities with frequency agility and providing enhanced survivability with a reduced footprint. The multi-band feed system maximizes efficiencies by applying angle-diversity.
ARA recognizes that today’s most advanced Electronically Steered Arrays (ESA) are still specific to a particular communications band and that they are not easily reconfigurable or scalable. ARA Engineers are also beginning to look at ways to develop a new Software Defined COTM ESA that will alleviate these issues.
External Resources/Acknowledgements: GenusGM, GAO@100, expertmarketresources.com, marketsandmarkets.com