Electronic Weapons: SOCOM, MUOS and The Falcon

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May 16, 2015: U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) has bought $27 million dollars’ worth over 5,000) Falcon III radios. This is a COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) design that was adapted for military use as the AN/PRC-117G in the 1990s. SOCOM likes this radio a lot and has been using it for a long time. PRC-117G is a 5.45 kg (12 pound) radio that can be carried or installed in vehicles. About a third of its weight is the battery. It has a maximum output of 20 watts and handles FM, UHF, and VHF signals as well as satellite based communications. On the ground max range is 20 kilometers (depending on hills and the antenna used). PRC-117G costs about $40,000 each. There is an improved AN/PRC-117G (the MNVR) that cost $56,000 each. That includes development costs (to deal with the wish list of tweaks and upgrades the military wants). The U.S. military (especially SOCOM) has been using the AN/PRC-117 since the late 1990s as an interim radio and found it a solid piece of equipment. AN/PRC-117 replaced a government designed and developed radio rejected by the troops in favor of the COTS Falcon.

The commercial Falcon series has long been used by several foreign armed forces and many civilian operations use. The AN/PRC-117 has been regularly upgraded in that time (going from version A to the current G). The upgraded Falcon (Falcon II or PRC-150) that appealed to SOCOM which proceeded to buy over half a billion dollars' worth of AN/PRC-150 radios. The 4.6 kg (ten pounds, without batteries) radios are very flexible (are used in vehicles or backpacks) and are able to use several different types of transmission (including bouncing signals off the ionosphere, for longer range or just to get a signal out of a built up area). Digital transmissions allow for data to get through under poor atmospheric conditions or when in a built up area. The radios also have good encryption and the ability to send and receive all forms of digital data. These radios are also now used by the army.

Another reason for buying more Falcon IIIs was the January launch of the third (of four) MUOS (Mobile User Objective System) communications satellites. The Falcon III can use MUOS. As a result of the third MUOS satellite going up about 70 percent of earth’s surface is now covered by the MUOS military communications system. MUOS gives military users cell-phone-like capabilities anywhere in the world. Eventually four MUOS communications satellites operating in 36,000 kilometer stationary (geosynchronous) orbits will provide superior satellite phone service worldwide. This will also include encrypted communications that will work despite being in forests or most buildings. In effect, MUOS can replace cell phone towers in any area on the planet once the signals from one of the four satellites are aimed at the area of operations. The complete system is supposed to be active by 2016. The first satellite went up in early 2014. The four ground stations (one for each satellite) are in Sicily, North America, Hawaii, and Australia.

 


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