With their reliable, secure and global connectivity, satellites have been instrumental in military communications for over half a century. Applications have covered everything from surveillance to operation support, and monitoring personnel to facilitating mobile command centers. A 2022 report revealed that the government and defense sector accounted for a staggering 42% of the $78.22 billion global satellite communication market. Looking ahead, the global military communication market is projected to reach $54.11 billion by 2029, driven by advancing technologies, including the Military Internet of Things (MIoT).
Throughout history, military personnel have relied on secure and dependable channels to transmit vital information across vast distances. Satellites have played a transformative role in revolutionizing military communications, empowering rapid data transfer, real-time intelligence gathering, and precise targeting. To fully grasp the significance and influence of military satellite communications on the defense industry, it’s essential to delve into its evolutionary journey.
Initial Defense Communications Satellite Program (IDCSP)
Official efforts to create a military communications satellite started in 1960 and since then, the United States has relied largely on four different satellite constellations to deliver timely, reliable communications. The Initial Defense Communications Satellite Program (IDCSP) created the Pentagon’s first near-geosynchronous communications system – the Initial Defense Satellite Communication System (IDSCS). The first satellite of this constellation was launched in 1966, and by July 1967 consisted of 19 satellites in total. These satellites enabled the transfer of high-resolution photographs during the Vietnam War, allowing for near real-time battlefield analysis.
Defense Satellite Communications System II (DSCS II) and DSCS III
Subsequently, constellations Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) network holds a significant position within military satellite communications today – welcoming a new era of capabilities and flexibility. First, each WGS satellite offers more SATCOM capacity than the entire DSCS constellation, providing a quantum leap in communications capacity.
Recognizing the system’s potential, in 2012 the WGS network expanded internationally, attracting partner countries including Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and New Zealand. According to Heidi Grant, Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for International Affairs, these collaborations aimed to enhance interoperability, bolster trust, and increase capabilities and capacity for all partners.
The WGS system operates through three principal segments: Space (satellites), Control (operators), and Terminal (users). The space segment consists of 10 cost-effective, high-throughput Ka- and X-band satellites; controlled and managed by the USSF Space Delta 8’s 4th Space Operations Squadron and 53rd Space Operations Squadron. The ground segment boasts thousands of tactical SATCOM terminals. Today the system provides worldwide, high-capacity communications for various government agencies, the Department of Defense (DOD), international partners, and NATO.
The WGS network is a critical part of the US military’s communications infrastructure, but it’s important to note that it is not the only network they use. The US military utilizes a variety of other networks, including the Defense Information Systems Network (DISN) and the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS).