How HTS investment today could spell serious savings for the military tomorrow

In my last article on the GovSat Report, I discussed high throughput satellites (HTS), a new satellite technology and a significant shift in the satellite industry that drastically increases the bandwidth that a single satellite can deliver, while reducing the cost of that bandwidth.

Ultimately, through a concept called frequency reuse, each individual HTS spacecraft can transmit and receive far more information simultaneously than ever before. This means that each satellite can deliver higher performance capability at a lower cost to the customer, since more bits of information can be delivered at once from single satellite and thus reduced costs for the owner/operator.

An increasing number of these advanced spacecraft are being launched by the commercial satellite providers. In the case of SES Space and Defense, the new SES HTS satellites, SES-12, SES-14, and SES-15 are all currently under development and will be launched within the next couple of years.

And what’s really exciting about these new SES satellites is that they all provide a natural migration path from traditional shaped-beam satellite capacity to the higher performance and more economical HTS capabilities. This migration path is enabled by overlaying the coverage areas serviced by the large number of small Ku band beams which take advantage of frequency re-use with the traditional Ku band shaped-beam coverage.

As I discussed in my last article, the military is truly the perfect customer for HTS. First, they can never get enough bandwidth. The military is constantly identifying new and exciting capabilities that require more bandwidth to operate. Furthermore, the availability and performance – or lack thereof – of these capabilities can produce dramatic improvements or dire consequences.

Then there’s the issue of finances. The entire federal government is looking to cut costs at a time when budgets are still shrinking and agencies are still looking to identify efficiencies. HTS can pay dividends in this regard thanks to its ability to deliver a lower cost per Megahertz, or per bit, for commercial satellite communications that the military is already purchasing and relying on.

So, the military must be falling all over itself to embrace HTS technologies…right? Unfortunately, that’s not really the case.  Like all new technologies, there is an initial, up-front cost to migrate from traditional satellite services to those delivered by HTS. Changes have to be made to the military’s terrestrial satellite infrastructure for them to begin the shift to HTS. Unfortunately, the military has been reluctant to make those changes and upgrades to their equipment and is currently not in a position to fully utilize HTS any time in the near future.

HTS GraphicWhat the military is really doing is making the decision to sacrifice cost efficiencies and savings over time to reduce their one-time out-of-pocket expenses today.  Although this is a decision that may seem fiscally responsible in the short term, it will ultimately cost them more in the long term. In fact, the additional costs incurred by failing to make this move in the near future will most likely dwarf the savings they receive today by putting off necessary upgrades.

Why is the military making a decision that could impede their access to vast amounts of new capacity and wind up being economically irresponsible? There could be concerns that the promised cost savings simply won’t materialize. Or, that the promised bandwidth and performance increases aren’t great enough to justify moving forward.

In response, I say that military leaders simply have to look to the clouds – at the commercial in-flight entertainment industry. Commercial airlines are rapidly embracing HTS technologies to efficiently and effectively deliver their in-flight entertainment to passengers due to its ability to provide better services at cheaper rates.

Granted, the DoD’s requirements for in-transit connectivity are a bit different than that of commercial airlines since the bandwidth requirement goes the other direction. For airlines, the bulk of the data originates from the ground and travels to the airplane. For DoD uses, it’s the other way around – such as when an aircraft or drone transmits live video or photos back to military intelligence.

However, despite the difference in the direction of the traffic, the same efficiencies that are driving commercial airlines to send television to passengers via HTS could save the military money, while transmitting data more efficiently.

Today’s military has been reticent in the adoption of HTS simply because they’re hesitant to make the necessary changes to their existing terrestrial equipment and infrastructure needed to embrace it. By being frugal today, what they’re really doing is leaving money on the table as they fail to capitalize on the cost savings that HTS would be delivering to them over time.

To learn more about HTS technologies, the capabilities they enable and the ways in which private and public sector users, alike, can benefit from them, download the whitepaper, “The Big Beam Boom,” by clicking here.


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