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Military Satellites

Military Satellites: The Role of Satellites in Modern Warfare

Military Satellites have become integral to military operations around the world. They provide crucial services such as communication, reconnaissance, navigation, and weather data. As the demand for these capabilities grows, so does the need for increased space budgets, particularly in the United States. However, military space spending patterns are evolving. The focus now is on finding a balance between the need for advanced and capable systems and the need for more rapid deployment, while also weighing satellite needs against the requirement for other equipment, particularly cyber defense systems.

Before we get started, let’s discuss,

Military Operations and Commercial Satellites:

Military operations around the globe are increasingly relying on commercial satellites to achieve their objectives. The use of commercial communication satellites is particularly cost-effective and beneficial for military purposes. Additionally, commercial reconnaissance satellites are proving to be an asset for countries that cannot afford to launch their satellites, allowing them to access photos of their rivals.

Despite decades of research by superpowers, there has never been a clear military role for humans in space. In the 1960s, the United States experimented with several piloted military space systems, including the DynaSoar spaceplane and the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL). The MOL was intended to carry a large reconnaissance camera, and two astronauts were to spend up to a month in orbit, taking photos of ground targets. However, the program was canceled in 1969 as it became evident that humans were not required for the task, and robotic systems could perform the work efficiently and often better than humans. Similarly, the Soviet Union briefly operated manned space stations resembling the MOL, but they also abandoned the program for the same reason as the United States.

Now you probably might be wondering,

What is the job of military satellites?

Military satellites have been playing an important role in modern warfare. People use them for a variety of purposes such as conducting reconnaissance, navigating, communicating, gathering signals intelligence, monitoring meteorology, and defending against satellites. Reconnaissance and surveillance satellites take photographs of targets on the ground and relay them to receiving stations. They are in low orbits and can photograph a target for only a little over a minute before they move out of range. 

In addition, there exist satellites that utilize diverse wavelengths to penetrate through camouflage, identify the composition of objects, and scrutinize emissions from smokestacks. Signals intelligence satellites listen for communications from cellular telephones, walkie-talkies, microwave transmissions, radios, and radar. They relay this information to the ground, where it is processed for various purposes. Satellites for communication purposes enable communication with sea vessels, ground troops, and submarines having small dish antennas. Navigation satellites are also vital to military forces as they help determine positions at sea or on land. Accurate weather information is also critical to military operations, and the United States and Russia operate meteorology satellites for military use. Antisatellite and missile defense satellites are not currently part of any nation’s arsenal, but ASAT weapons may be used to intercept missiles in the future.

You should also know,

Why satellites are essential for modern warfare?

Effective military operations depend on the transfer of data. Despite the reduced number of troops stationed overseas compared to previous years, the need for satellite capabilities has remained significant. Militaries around the world face tight budget environments, especially in Western Europe and the U.S. Nonetheless, the U.S. will continue to invest more money in satellites than any other country, and the production of military satellites will remain steady for years to come.

Poland, Germany, and Japan are just a few of the countries launching military satellites. China and Russia will largely drive the market for military satellites during Forecast International’s current forecasting period of 2023-2032. However, the war in Ukraine may hamper Russian efforts. Western countries will require replacements for their aging satellites by the start of the next decade, which should drive production through the 2020s.

Now let’s dig into the past and upcoming,

Military Space Innovation:

SATCOMBw and Syracuse IV are satellite-based networks providing secure communication capabilities for the German and French Armed Forces respectively. Both programs consist of military satellites and ground stations to provide long-range communications between areas of operations and decision-making centers. Airbus is the prime contractor for SATCOMBw and Syracuse IV, responsible for designing, implementing, and delivering deployable systems that provide autonomy, security, and absolute reliability for satellite telecommunications. Additionally, Airbus is the partner for space for the UK Ministry of Defence and has been providing Skynet services for over eighteen years. Skynet is a hardened X-band constellation of satellites providing all Beyond Line of Sight communications to the UK military. Airbus designs, enhances the Skynet fleet, builds the Skynet 6A satellite for launch in 2025, and ensures the sustainability and system availability of Skynet.

Military Communication Satellites
Illustration of the ESPAStar-HP satellite bus. Credit: Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman’s Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) gateway system has achieved 200,000 combat operational flight hours since its deployment in 2008, as a leader in the design, development, and delivery of end-to-end communications and advanced networking capabilities. The company’s gateway systems, including BACN, are capable of securely sharing mission information across military branches and enhancing the flow of data, and strengthening the overall command-and-control structure of the Defense Department. The BACN system functions as a communications gateway in the sky, operating at high altitudes to disseminate voice, imagery, and tactical data from various sources. This results in improved communication, coordination, and situational awareness for joint military personnel operating across different domains, including space, air, land, and sea.

Northrop Grumman is creating a geostationary communications satellite that will compete with Boeing’s similar design in a military procurement worth $2.4 billion. The U.S. Space Force selected both companies to develop Protected Tactical Satcom prototype payloads, known as PTS, which will become the military’s next-generation secure communications satellites. Northrop Grumman’s PTS payload will fly on a dedicated spacecraft built on an ESPAStar-HP satellite bus and will launch on a national security space mission aboard a United Launch Alliance Vulcan rocket in 2025. The ESPAStar-HP is faster to manufacture and launch than traditional military satellites and can be operated in geostationary orbit. The Space Force could select one or both companies to produce additional payloads, and whichever PTS version is selected will provide “uninterrupted communications even in the presence of sophisticated jamming threats.”

However, scientists and astronomers around the globe are concerned about the,

The Future of Military Satellites:

As the demand for satellite capabilities grows, militaries will begin to rely on alternative means of accessing the services required to conduct operations. One option is to lease capacity on commercial communications satellites to supplement government-owned birds. For instance, SpaceX offers a business line called Starshield, which derives from the Starlink system created for the military. Another possibility is the use of hosted payload arrangements, where a government pays a commercial satellite operator to install a government-developed payload on board a commercially operated satellite. This offers commercial satellite operators extra funding while also providing a means for militaries to decrease their overall expenses.

Moreover, the US Department of Defense is exploring a plan called disaggregation. This involves purchasing larger numbers of smaller, simpler satellites rather than smaller numbers of larger, complex satellites such as Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) and Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) spacecraft. The Pentagon believes that disaggregation will lead to satellite networks that have more redundancy, allowing them to survive an attack, and will reduce development costs and timelines. The rise of small satellites in the commercial market, driven by hardware miniaturization, will further accelerate interest in small disaggregated satellites.


On the Whole:

Satellites have revolutionized military operations by providing crucial services. Military operations across the world depend heavily on satellites to provide essential services such as communication, reconnaissance, navigation, and weather data. The need for satellite capabilities continues to grow, leading to increased space budgets worldwide. The future of military satellites lies in finding a balance between the need for advanced and capable systems and the need for rapid deployment while weighing satellite needs against other equipment requirements. The rise of alternative means of accessing satellite capabilities, such as commercial leasing and hosted payload arrangements, will also help reduce overall costs. The future of the military satellite market looks bright, with stable production forecasts for the next decade.

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