Could MWR via satellite help solve military recruitment and retention challenges?

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been incredibly difficult and trying on the American people. Despite some businesses, schools, and offices reopening, Americans have been mostly sequestered in their own homes since March – going out only when necessary, forsaking public gatherings, and keeping their distance from friends, family, and loved ones.

And while this has been hard on everyone, technology has been there to help somewhat soften the blow.

Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, Peacock, and every other online video streaming service – with the exception of maybe Quibi – have helped keep people entertained. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other online collaboration and video conferencing solutions have helped us see our distant loved-ones face-to-face. They’ve also kept us connected and collaborating with our coworkers. Cloud-based applications and virtual desktops have made remote work both possible and effective. And a combination of delivery services and dedicated essential workers have kept us fed and supplied.

But what would happen if we didn’t have access to these services, tools, and capabilities? It’s an almost unfathomable scenario to consider for many of us that simply take these things – smart devices, online services, and the prevalent bandwidth that enables them – for granted in our everyday lives.

But there is a large population of our fellow Americans that don’t have access to the modern conveniences and capabilities that ubiquitous broadband connectivity and highspeed terrestrial cellular networks have delivered to much of our country. That group includes deployed soldiers – many of which are stationed in places where terrestrial networks are either untrusted or denied. Or, in some extreme cases – such as with Navy personnel stationed on ships-at-sea – those terrestrial networks are simply unavailable.

As Nicole Robinson, the SVP of Global Government at SES, recently explained during a webinar for press and satellite industry experts entitled, “The Government Network Architecture of the Future,” this is creating a serious personnel problem for today’s military.

“New generations of warfighters are growing up with [smart devices]. They have access to social media tools and different ways to connect with friends and loved ones,” She explained. “When they forward deploy, they’re expecting access to those devices and services, but that’s not currently the case.”

Hospitalman Maria Perez has her temperature taken as she enters the Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bethesda Fitness Center. Connectivity and MWR were challenges for the military prior to COVID-19 that have only been exasperated by the ongoing pandemic. (Image courtesy of U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Julio Martinez.)

And this problem has only gotten worse during the global COVID-19 pandemic since it’s keeping soldiers and sailors deployed and quarantined from their loved ones. As the USO recently explained on their Website:

…because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Navy ships have been ordered not to come into port, meaning that service members currently aboard these ships have been stuck at sea for months. Some have been at sea for nearly half a year. Of the Navy ships that do come into port, their visit is far from normal. Service members must stay quarantined, away from contact with others, to ensure no exposure and spread of COVID-19 on the ship…”

How can we keep deployed or geographically-isolated soldiers and sailors connected to their loved ones? How can we keep them engaged and entertained at a time when a global pandemic has extended deployments and demanded quarantining? And how can we keep the morale of our warfighters high before it starts to impact retention and future recruitment?

The utilization of satellite solutions for morale, welfare, and recreation (MWR) could provide the answer.

Satellite as a MWR solution
The military has long relied on satellite communications in places where terrestrial networks are unavailable, untrusted, or otherwise denied. The same commercial satellite connectivity that has been relied on for communications in theater can be used for military MWR initiatives to deliver connectivity to soldiers and sailors stuck at-see and overseas.

In fact, with today’s advanced commercial satellite solutions – including high-throughput satellites (HTS) in orbits closer to Earth than Geostationary Orbit (GEO) – such as Lower Earth Orbit (LEO) and Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) – they could deliver even more.

The low-latency, high-throughput capability of HTS satellites in LEO and MEO orbits – including the SES O3b MEO satellite constellation – is capable of delivering fiber-like connectivity to practically anywhere on the planet. That means that the same highspeed, high-bandwidth connection that today’s next generation of warfighters have been raised with and rely on can be delivered to them regardless of where they are on Earth.

This isn’t a revolutionary idea. It’s something that is widely used in private industry. This was well illustrated by Brad Grady, a Principal Analyst at space and satellite industry analyst firm, Northern Sky Research, when he asked, “Why can my family go on a cruise ship and get [an] incredible connection, and then I can go on an [aircraft] carrier and the connection is terrible?”

As the next generation of warfighter enters the military – one that was raised with mobile devices in their pockets and that considers connectivity more than just a convenience – this disparity is quickly becoming a problem. And it’s a problem that is being exacerbated by the global pandemic that has quite literally left American warfighters stranded overseas and at-sea. And it couldn’t be happening at a worse time, when the U.S. military is actively looking to recruit and retain troops as part of larger efforts to increase military readiness.

“A small number of Americans serve in our armed forces and they have growing expectations,” explained Rep. Jackie Speier at a recent House Armed Services Committee subpanel examining military recruitment and retention, “The competition for the limited talent is fierce.”

According to Nicole Robinson, part of the solution could involve putting a piece of home in the pockets of servicemen and women. “The military needs to improve retention for soldiers, sailors, and airmen,” she explained. “Part of that is having access to data – having access to creature comforts when they’re deployed.”

COMSATCOM solutions – especially HTS constellations at LEO and MEO – could make that a reality for the military, both during the ongoing pandemic and well into the future.

Featured image courtesy of Max Lonzanida and the U.S. Navy.


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