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August 20, 2020 | International, Aerospace

US Army network team sets timeline for satellite constellations

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army's tactical network program office expects to reap the full benefits of low-and medium-Earth orbit satellite constellations in the 2025-2027 time frame, the head of the office said Aug. 18.

Speaking on a webinar hosted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Brig. Gen. Rob Collins, program executive officer at Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications-Tactical, said the two constellations types offer “game-changing technologies” that will likely be fully mature and ready for soldier use in Capability Set ‘25 or ‘27, the two-year cycle of new network tools the service is fielding.

One of the connectivity benefits of the LEO and MEO constellations in the field, Collins said, is that they can allow for complex network functions and mission-support capabilities to remain in a safer place.

“We may be able to put those in an area in a more safe sanctuary and allow our war-fighting formations, our brigades and divisions to better focus on what their tactical mission is without having to concern themselves with the force protection of those areas,” the one-star general said at DARPA's virtual Electronic Resurgence Initiative Summit.

The Army is interested in LEO and MEO satellite constellations because they can provide significantly more bandwidth and reduced latency. “It's really all about having a resilient network architecture that takes advantage of all the layers that can be expeditionary,” Collins said.

LEO and MEO can also allow for smaller ground terminals, which will increase mobility for the soldier, he added.

PEO C3T is currently working on prototypes of new satellite capabilities in partnership with the Army's Combat Capabilities Development Command. PEO C3T's Project Manager Tactical Network division will run lab-based experimentation with new satellite terminals this summer to “exploit some of the commercial capabilities,” Collins said. The program office is also working with the CCDC's Space and Terrestrial Communications Directorate on creating multi-band satellite terminals.

5G technology will add an additional layer of network speed. Collins said the Army anticipates 5G technology has the “potential” to be incorporated into Capability Set '25. But he warned that the Army operates in unique environments with rough terrain and foliage that can affect communications, and can not always rely on towers and relay stations.

“I think one of the things we're going to have to do is how can we take and best employ some of this technology, how do we link it into our current environment and ensure that it's mobile,” Collins said. “And then probably, importantly, to make sure how do we secure some of the endpoints associated with the technology. I think that's really an area that we'll be reaching out to industry, academia and others to see how we best incorporate that.”

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