When an Air Force fighter jet or bomber closes in on a high-value target area, poised for attack, or an Army ground unit moves to contact with an enemy, success or failure of a given high-risk mission can often hang in the balance of what can be described in two words – satellite networking.

A sufficiently hardened, multi-directional signal can ensure that pilots quickly receive target coordinates, navigational details, or sensitive threat information of great relevance to the mission. Should target accuracy be compromised, signal fidelity jammed, or flight path compromised by threats from unanticipated directions, mission objectives can of course be destroyed and lives are put at risk.

Given this, high-throughput, multi-frequency, multi-directional antennas, coupled with secure “meshed” networking between satellites, are considered crucial to war planners looking to favor success in missions by increasing the strength and speed of space connectivity.

“We are looking at how we can use satellites to enhance the speed of targeting,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told Warrior during a recent experiment in Arizona.

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With all this in mind, the Air Force Research Laboratory is moving quickly on an interesting deal with SES Government Solutions and Isotropic Systems to achieve new levels of “next-gen” connectivity. The AFRL deal, which includes input from the U.S. Army Research Engineering Team, is testing Isotropic Systems’ emerging multi-beam terminal over SES’s O3b Medium Earth Orbit satellite constellation.

A U.S. Army Combat Action Badge is pinned on the uniform of a soldier during an awards ceremony for soldiers with 4th Squadron 2nd Cavalry Regiment on March 7, 2014 near Kandahar, Afghanistan. .

A U.S. Army Combat Action Badge is pinned on the uniform of a soldier during an awards ceremony for soldiers with 4th Squadron 2nd Cavalry Regiment on March 7, 2014 near Kandahar, Afghanistan. .
(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

As part of the deal, the U.S. Air Force and Army, through the innovative Defense Experimentation Using Commercial Space Internet program, will review a prototype of Isotropic Systems’ optical beamforming antenna and its ability to connect simultaneously with two satellite constellations at GEO (Geostationary Earth Orbit) and MEO.

The unique multi-beam capability will enable the armed forces to deliver data at the tactical edge by leveraging capacity from multiple commercial satellites and a military satellite over a single antenna platform, according to Brian Billman, vice president of Product Management at Isotropic Systems. “Without affecting the main comms link, Isotropic Systems’ multi-beam terminal can evaluate situational awareness in real-time, preemptively seeking multiple communications pathways in the event of signal jamming or blockages or to ensure maximum performance,” he said.

Isotropic Systems’ new Optical Lens Technology will integrate with SES’ O3b MEO satellites, including its advanced O3b mPOWER system, set to launch late next year or early 2022 along with other next-gen LEO and GEO constellations satellites. The Isotropic Systems terminal will be ready, as it is slated for commercial rollout late next year.

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“The Isotropic antenna will deliver high throughput, at low latency over a MEO constellation with simultaneous resilient GEO capacity. This is a game changer for the U.S. Army,” Pete Hoene, President and CEO of SES Government Solutions, said in a company statement.

Isotropic Systems and SES’ collaborative effort to improve satellite connectivity, networking and throughput aligns closely with the U.S. Army’s current work to harden space connectivity, increase secure space-air-ground networking and vastly quicken the “kill web” to reduce sensor-to-shooter time.

MEO and LEO satellite capabilities were recently assessed in a cutting edge Army experiment in the Arizona Desert called Project Convergence 2020. During the exercise, an armored combat vehicle engaged in a “direct fire” mission to destroy an enemy tank target, after receiving targeting cues via radio from an overhead surveillance drone, mini-drone and helicopter, however informational details and location specifics on the target first came from fast-moving, low-altitude satellites operated from Washington State.

The O3b MEO satellites, owned and operated by SES, successfully leveraged advanced satellite connectivity to quickly find and transmit target data across large portions of the U.S., demonstrating new levels of cross-domain attack.

A series of lower-altitude Medium and Low Earth Orbit satellites delivered real-time targeting data through command centers at Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington State to live attack experiments at Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz., bringing new dimensions to high-speed, long-range targeting.

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“What you saw here was the first phase of information being fed by MEO and LEO satellites. That is what was going through Washington State into a surrogate ground control station, which delivered the data,” Maj. Gen. John George, Commanding General of the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command, Army Futures Command, told Warrior in an interview on the ground at Yuma.

– Kris Osborn is the Managing Editor of Warrior Maven and The Defense Editor of The National Interest —

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