The Pentagon is required to brief legislators on military utilization of the commercial satellite communications services, notably those from the non-geostationary orbit satellites, under the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, which was authorized by the House on December 7 and then later sent to the Senate. The provision comes in response to the increasing need for high-speed internet in the US military, particularly onboard Navy ships and other sites where terrestrial telecom is unavailable and satellite signals are now the only choice.
Non-geostationary orbits, like low Earth orbits (LEO) and medium Earth orbits (MEO), are substantially lower in altitude than geostationary orbits, which are 36,000 kilometers above equator. The Low-latency communications services, particularly high-speed internet, are provided through satellite networks in LEO and MEO.
As per the NDAA, the secretary in charge of defense must submit a “report on present commercial satellite communication projects, including fresh non-geostationary orbit satellite systems that the (DoD) Department of Defense has utilized to raise satellite communication throughput to established platforms of military departments presently constrained by legacy capabilities” to congressional defense committees.
Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), who is the current House Armed Services Committee’s vice ranking member as well as ranking member of seapower and also projection forces subcommittee, originally proposed the proposal. Wittman also became concerned that the US Navy lacks adequate connectivity onboard ships, rendering it difficult for marines and sailors to be able to have a video chat with their relatives or take courses online while on deployment. During the covid pandemic, when personnel were unable to make port calls and were forced to stay aboard ships for up to a year, the demand for the internet connections skyrocketed.
A representative for satellite communications operator SES, which manages O3b MEO satellite network, told SpaceNews that the business was a strong supporter of the change. SES executives questioned why the Navy ships do not have high-speed internet at a period when commercial satellite firms are boosting capacity as well as services for mobile customers in an article titled “Billion-dollar ships without sailors – why the Navy requires to prioritize connection.”
SES was able to work with seapower subcommittee of Wittman on an amendment, which began as a Navy-concentrated provision but was later altered to comprise satcom for all DoD, according to the spokesman. During deployments, the Navy has employed 2 SES O3b terminals to offer MEO wi-fi for the carrier strike group. The Navy has depended on the Inmarsat GEO satellite services in the past, but SES as well as other non-GEO vendors like OneWeb have argued that the military should purchase a variety of satcom capabilities in several orbits and frequencies. The Commercial Satellite Communications Office, which supervises military satcom procurement for the Space Force, is looking into buying services from developing MEO and LEO providers, yet the Department of Defense (DoD) continues to depend on the GEO satellites.