The US military is undergoing a radical change in its communications capabilities. Not only is DARPA's Persistent Close Air Support cutting response times by nearly 90 percent, but a new satellite-based comm system will soon deliver a 3G smartphone experience to soldiers anywhere on the planet.
Currently, US forces use an 11-satellite Ultra High Frequency (UHF) system called UHF Follow-On (or, UFO). And while the UFO has proven a useful and reliable system, it is reaching the end of its operational life. And so the US Navy has set about developing the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) to replace it.
Image: General Dynamics
The MUOS relies on four geosynchronous satellites to bounce signals back and forth over the horizon between four ground receivers peppered throughout the world—specifically in Australia, West Virginia, Hawaii, and Sicily. In essence, MUOS is a global cellular service for the American Armed Forces—it even runs on a commercial 3G Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA) backbone—and includes all the benefits of modern cell service. For example, once MUOS is operational, soldiers will see not just a significant boost to the reception quality and bandwidth of their field devices but also be able to simultaneously access voice, video and data—just like civilians have been able to for years. What's more, the new system will finally provide reliable radio communications beyond the soldier's line of sight. The MUOS satellites themselves offer 16 times the data throughput of the current UHF technology but are still backwards compatible with the existing system.
The second MUOS satellite, prior to launch - image: US Navy
Lockheed has been the primary contractor for this $2 billion deal, with help from General Dynamics and a number of other defense contractors, since its inception in 2004. Two of the satellites have already launched and, save for local protests at the Sicily site, all ground stations are now operational. The other two satellites (as well as an in-orbit spare) are expected to be launched next year. [Lockheed - US Navy - Wiki]