Space: April 8, 2005


The U.S. Army is increasingly dependent on satellite communications. Currently, 80 percent of the army's satellite communications (SATCOM)capability is obtained from commercial satellites. While satellite communications has many advantages, it is expensive. With the non-satellite radios, you dont pay anything beyond the cost of the radio, and maintenance. But with satellite communications you get billed by the minute, and the amount of data being moved. For a heavy data user, like a UAV sending back real time video, this can be several dollars a minute. Unfortunately, sending this real time video is a very popular, and useful, application. More troops are using it, although most of the short range UAVs send their video direct to a ground station. But there are some serious problems looming for military use of satellite communications. No one yet knows how fast this use will grow, and so far its not been possible to get enough military communications satellites into orbit to take care of current needs. There will always be a need for some commercial satellites, especially for surge situations, particularly when theres a war going on. The armys worst nightmare is going into an operation with a lot of satellite communications gear, and finding that there isnt enough commercial satellite communications capacity available. Currently, the U.S. Department of Defense is spending over a billion dollars a year to by capacity on commercial satellites. There have already been shortages, and the situation is expected to get worse unless the Department of Defense can launch more of its own communications satellites. 


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