The High Tech Way the U.S. Military Wants to Talk to Satellites
Quickly sharing data to the right units and commanders is critical in wartime.
The U.S. military excels at acquiring intelligence, but central command and boots on the ground engaged in combat operations often run into technical bottlenecks when trying to share that mission-critical data over single beam terminals, such as parabolic antennas and other outdated infrastructure.
The U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy are conducting a series of ongoing key trials of cutting-edge satellites and terminals in a concerted effort to break through communications hurdles in an increasingly adversarial world. High-powered connectivity delivers a real competitive edge in battle.
During a recent live fire mission as part of the Army’s Project Convergence exercise in Yuma, Arizona, troops leveraged new low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellites to gain access to real-time targeting data. And while new satellite constellations will be launching new communications capabilities into LEO, medium-earth-orbit (MEO), and high-earth-orbit (HEO) over the next few years, the defense sector is equally focused on the ground.
Without next-gen ground infrastructure—advanced terminals like Isotropic Systems’ patented multi-beam antenna—new constellations will fall short of satisfying the intense demand for high-speed warfighter connectivity.
The Department of Defense’ Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) has tested the ability of the Isotropic Systems’ optics-based platform in extreme sea-like conditions with plans to ultimately unlock high-powered bandwidth aboard next-generation naval vessels.
The evaluation trials are measuring the effectiveness of the low-profile, high performance, affordable and customizable antenna to support multiple links over multiple frequencies of satellite capacity, covering S-, C-, Ka-, Ku, X-, and Q-band connectivity.
The Army, through the U.S. Defense Department’s innovative Defense Experimentation Using
Commercial Space Internet (DEUCSI) program is also reviewing Isotropic Systems’ optical beamforming antenna and its ability to simultaneously link with multiple SES satellites in GEO and MEO orbits.
Satellite operator SES led a group of space investors, including Boeing HorizonX Global Ventures, the UK Space Agency, and west coast deep-tech fund Promus, in a $40 million fundraising wave aimed at accelerating the commercial readiness of Isotropic Systems’ unique antenna.
“Isotropic Systems is extremely well positioned to unlock a new age of high-powered, multi-orbit connectivity with our next-gen multi-beam antenna,” said John Finney, Isotropic Systems Founder and CEO. “Our unique, cost-effective terminal solution has attracted world-class investment support as well as unprecedented interest and demand across a widely diverse spectrum of end users—including warfighters and military operations around the world.”
The antenna’s ability to enable the U.S. Army and other armed forces to deliver intelligence data at the tactical edge by leveraging commercial and military satellites over a single platform has former Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy already considering the newfound possibilities.
“It’s expeditionary warfare, connecting any sensor to any shooter. The goal is to bring all war engagement information together through command and control and synchronize data to get it to the right assets. We are looking at how we can use satellites to enhance the speed of targeting,” McCarthy told reporters.
The biggest user of satellite capacity in the world, the U.S. Army is exploring new ways to more effectively and efficiently utilize both existing and new capacity coming online.
“As new constellations are launched and join existing constellations in the years to come, our technology allows the military and government agencies to leverage all of the satellites that best fit their needs and unleash the full potential of the global satellite ecosystem using a single, integrated terminal,” noted Finney.
Maj. Gen. John George, Commander of Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, watched over the Army’s live attack experiments in the Arizona desert late last year. He noted the significance the new generation of connectivity will have on U.S. warfighter capabilities and national security as a whole. He told Warrior that high-speed satellite connectivity is increasingly being networked with ground terminals and antenna processing information in a much more comprehensive way at much faster speeds.
“LEO satellites, being much closer, dramatically reduce the latency that is inherent in satellite communication. They increase the throughput for more data. With the smaller form factor we can get more points of presence on the battlefield closer to the tactical edge,” an Army engineer explained to reporters at Project Convergence.
The commercial arrival of Isotropic Systems’ multi-beam antenna in 2022 aligns with crucial Pentagon plans that call for improved connectivity and resiliency. The connectivity will be delivered over a network of satellites leveraging multi-orbit capabilities used to pass targeting data and communications in real time across the battlespace or government enterprise.
The Isotropic Systems antenna transmission draws upon a first-of-its-kind beamforming optical lens, engineered to simultaneously send precise beams to multiple satellites—using only select system circuitry. That’s a real advantage over phased arrays that require fulltime circuitry use and far more power.
While new, advanced constellations in space are garnering most of the headlines, an impressive lot of space investors and the U.S. military are focused on equally game-changing innovations in ground infrastructure.
“Our antenna is just as cutting-edge as the next generation of constellations and reusable rockets,” said Isotropic Systems’ Finney. “The defense sector has been very pleased to see firsthand the impact our optics-enabled multi-beam antennas will have in the field, and our most recent fundraising wave will only help to accelerate our roadmap to commercial production of this transformational ground game.”
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.