Mobile communications are a critical matter for all armed forces. Unmanned aerial systems have been driving defence sector demand. High technology satellite communications for military use is experiencing an exponential increase, as is the search for bandwidth.
Armed forces, together with emergency services and disaster response services, depend on reliable communications in areas without infrastructure. That infrastructure may have never existed at all, or may have been destroyed or put out of action by natural or man made disasters.
High frequency radio served these purposes for many decades before the advent of satellite communications. Nowadays, systems have to provide video and imagery in real time as well as verbal communications. Defence satellite communications have to provide as accurate a picture as possible over vast areas so that commanders are able to make decisions that are reliably informed.
Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) have been driving communications demand in the defence sector worldwide since 2001. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) use sophisticated satellite technology to carry out dangerous and tedious tasks. They have to operate at all altitudes so must have a versatile propulsion system. Co-ordinated routing software, such as that developed by Vocality, is crucial in battlefield situations to maintain reliable links between the UAVs with various ground stations and the command centres.
Off battlefield applications
Outside of a battlefield, UAVs are used for aerial and ground security reconnaissance. Some can be deployed in restricted urban areas. These are small platform weighing around 4 kg (9 pounds) with vertical take off and landing capabilities. On a larger scale, UAVs also provide valuable information about situations in remote areas following natural disasters, air traffic and search and rescue operations. Rangers in wildlife reserves use the technology to track migrating animals and poachers. UAVs can also be used to track how tsunamis develop in oceans as well as observing the migration of fish shoals.
Ironically, when UAVs started to boost the satellite industry in 2001, this industry sector felt that its golden age had ended because of the communications industry financial crash. The civilian industry has been picking up slowly since 2005. It expects its main growth in satellite communications to come from areas in Africa, Asia and South America outside of the major cities where Internet access is provided through slow, cellular networks. The future is to provide solar-powered base stations that connect with the Internet via a satellite. Companies are looking to develop low bandwidth communications using routers the size of coin that are able to send out small amounts of data at a time to a satellite in space.
The future of defence satellite communications lies in providing the most cost-effective equipment that has a wide range of capabilities on one platform. This applies whether the troops are on land, water or airborne. These technological developments are underway at a time when military budgets are being squeezed. UAVs and router technology provided by suppliers such as Vocality have become an essential part of military equipment for intelligence gathering as well as communications.
Miranda Elliott is a freelance writer on military matters and defence satellite communications. She contributes to a wide range of defence industry websites and blogs and has written about equipment supplied by Vocality.