Electronic Weapons: Broadband For Commandos In Small Vehicles

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May 13, 2017: Israel has ordered several dozen SOTM (Satellite On The Move) systems for land vehicles to provide high-speed satellite communications (normally only obtained from a stationary satellite dish) to armored vehicles or trucks on the move. A SOTM equipped vehicle can maintain a high-speed satellite datalink on the move and provide similar high-speed data service to nearby vehicles using high-speed short-range technology. SOTM was one of those technologies that were understood decades before the technology became small, reliable and affordable enough for widespread use. SOTM has been increasingly available for commercial users, initially ships and large aircraft. Israeli companies got involved in developing smaller, more reliable and affordable SOTM equipment. This sort of thing is similar to what happened with the first GPS receivers in the early 1990s. These cost thousands of dollars each but within a decade the cost was down to less than a hundred dollars each and GPS receiver tech kept getting smaller and cheaper. SOTM is more expensive to begin with (early ship based SOTM cost several hundred thousand dollars each) but the cost/benefit curve is basically the same.

SOTM was a problem for vehicles because ships and air transports provide a more stable and unobstructed platform for the satellite dish to connect, and stay connected, to the satellite providing high speed (broadband) service. As SOTM became available in the 1990s land vehicles were the last ones to get affordable services because land vehicles, especially military ones in a combat zone, are going to provide an unstable and often obstructed connection between the small (usually protected by a small dome) vehicle satellite dish and the comm satellite above. The first SOTM systems were expensive, unreliable and provided slow data (under one Mbps). In the last decade a lot of those problems have been solved. Those using SOTM in commercial travel (trains, buses. Airliners and ships) have noticed the progress. But affordable SOTM for land vehicles has a major impact on operations as it allows moving units to receive large quantities of data (UAV video, large database updates) reliably and quickly.

The American military took the lead in actually developing usable military SOTM systems (satellites and ground equipment). This effort began in the 1990s and by 2012 the first MUOS (Mobile User Objective System) communications satellite system was operational. MUOS was designed with SOTM in mind. The ground vehicle radios for this (like the Falcon III) had been around for several years already and MUOS gave Falcon III (and similar radio sets) military users cell-phone-like capabilities anywhere in the world. By 2016 four MUOS communications satellites operating in 36,000 kilometer stationary (geosynchronous) orbits provided superior satellite phone service worldwide. This also includes 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 four MUOS ground stations (one for each satellite) are in Sicily, North America, Hawaii, and Australia. But more importantly MUOS and military radios equipped to use MUOS laid the foundation for SOTM. Not surprisingly U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) was in the lead encouraging (and partly funding) the SOTM effort because small teams of SOCOM operators, especially in hostile territory, benefit greatly from reliable high-speed SOTM equipment, especially if it does not draw a lot (as in over 500 watts) of power.

 

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