The U.S. Space Force acquires, operates and maintains a constellation of Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites that are reserved for strategic, high-priority military missions, providing secure, jam-resistant communications.
While tactical military forces do use AEHF, its primary mission is to provide 100% assured communications for the national command authority and strategic or nuclear forces.
The Department of Defense recognized a need for a tactical alternative to AEHF to guarantee U.S. warfighters and allies have access to secure satellite communications during critical missions and during the heat of battle. The solution: Protected Anti-Jam Tactical Satellite Communications or PATS.
“We built upon some of the strengths of AEHF, but the real difference is that PATS provides more bandwidth, more resources, and allows for more users,” said John DeNorscia, product area technical director at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, one of the four businesses that form Raytheon Technologies.
The U.S. Space Force recently awarded Raytheon Intelligence & Space a $500 million indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract with a $37 million first delivery order to develop the Air Force Army Anti-Jam Modem.
The modem supports the Space and Missile Systems Center's Protected Tactical Waveform, an anti-jam capability operating on military satellite communication terminals through the Wideband Global SATCOM constellation as well as commercially leased satellites.
“Leasing commercial satellites give your network more resiliency, because there's only so many WGS birds,” said Greg Prince, Raytheon Intelligence & Space A3M technical director. “There are a lot more commercial satellites than WGS satellites, and if the government can protect that bandwidth, then it can increase its global coverage.”
Using protected satellite communications to direct deployed forces operating at the tactical level is the fastest way to communicate critical intelligence and information. It can be deployed in real-time, anywhere in the world.
“In today’s environment, everything is information-dependent,” said Mark Hutchins, RI&S senior program director, Protected Communication Systems. “And the natural way to get it to our mobile deployed forces is via SATCOM….”
PATS uses elements of commercial cryptographic algorithms, allowing it to be used in more dangerous and highly contested space environments. These areas include locations where an adversary is monitoring the encryption and decryption of the signals, and attempting to crack the code. PATS also transmits data at a very high bandwidth, allowing for the streaming of HD video in real-time. Another key benefit of PATS is that it allocates resources dynamically.
“From a network perspective, user terminals are able to request more bandwidth and give up excess bandwidth when they don’t need it over time as the network traffic ebbs and flows,” Prince said. “PATS is going to be used a lot for video distribution, but operators won’t be consuming all that data all the time. When they no longer need it, those resources are put back into the pot, and they're able to be redistributed to other terminals that do.”
Underscoring the importance of satellite communications to the Department of Defense, Gen. Jay Raymond, U.S. Space Command commander, signed the “Vision for Enterprise Satellite Communications,” Feb. 19, 2020, that emphasizes the robustness and resiliency of satellite communications.
“Adversaries understand the advantage SATCOM brings our warfighters and are working to deny, degrade, and destroy these capabilities,” states the vision paper.