Boutelle: Army too dependent on commercial satellites

One of the greatest technological challenges in Iraq has been the lack of bandwidth needed to push increasing levels of information to soldiers and commanders on the battlefield. Recently, the use of commercial satellites and other technologies has provided that bandwidth, but at a high cost.

The Army now uses commercial sources for 80 percent of its satellite-based network bandwidth in Iraq. It cost the Army more than $1 billion last year, with one-third going to satellite leases and two-thirds to services, according to Army officials.

“I can give you any amount of bandwidth anywhere in the world you want today. Just give me money,” said Lt. Gen. Steven Boutelle, the Army’s chief information officer, at the Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington, D.C., this week.

The Army can deliver classified, unclassified and secret data anywhere in the world by bringing in satellite terminal links and transponders. “That’s kind of been solved, as far as getting it there,” he said.

But using commercial satellites is expensive, and it fails to deliver needed capabilities, Boutelle said. “We rely so heavily on our commercial constellations today, and we need to get to a ruggedized [military] constellation,” he said.

But new military satellites in development, such as the Transformational Satellite Communications System (TSAT), face delays and funding cuts. The fiscal 2007 Defense Authorization bill cut the TSAT budget by $80 million from the Bush administration’s request of $867 million. The fiscal 2007 Defense Appropriations bill chopped $130 million from the TSAT budget.

Other DOD programs to address the satellite shortage have also faced repeated setbacks, Boutelle said.

The Army’s goal is to give satellite capabilities to individual warfighters, he said. But commercial satellites were not designed for military use and can’t do the job, he added. “You don’t get operations that move in huge bandwidth to every single platform until you get the TSAT,” he said.

The Army can mitigate the demand for satellite bandwidth by increasing the capabilities of line-of-sight communications, Boutelle said. But the dispersed nature of 21st-century warfare demands that networks be extended over long distances and rough terrains, he added.

The Army realizes that the status of military satellite programs, such as TSAT, will necessitate the sustained use of commercial satellites. In 2004, an Army working group produced the Bridge to Future Networks Capabilities Production Document to address augmenting military satellite capabilities with commercial resources.

The document establishes a system of upgrading satellite communications over seven spirals to be coordinated with deployments of U.S. troops to Iraq. The system relies on the use of commercial Ku-band communication, which has higher transmission rates and better performance than its military counterparts until new military Ka-band-capable satellites exist.

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