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Digital Battlespace

Arctic SATCOM moves into the spotlight

7th June 2021 - 12:30 GMT | by Andrew White in London

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The OneWeb gateway in Svalbard, Norway. (Photo: OneWeb/Kongsberg Satellite Services).

​Countries in the Arctic region are positioning themselves to maximise levels in connectivity across the High North, as their armed forces look to assert influence across the strategically important region.

Historically, the Arctic has suffered from poor communications thanks partly to a lack of fixed infrastructure and hard-to-reach geostationary satellites positioned over the Equator.

However, emerging and groundbreaking technologies mean that Arctic nations (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States) can now consider alternative communication solutions to satisfy the requirement of armed forces operating across the region. 

On 2 June 2021, for instance, OneWeb and Finnish state-run security network provider Erillisverko demonstrated low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite connectivity to Finnish government agencies, providing an example of how to support the operational requirements of multiple government agencies in the High North and Arctic Circle.

A few weeks earlier, on 5 May, OneWeb and Hughes signed an undisclosed contract with the USAF Research Laboratory to demonstrate LEO SATCOM in the Arctic region.

According to a joint statement released by the industrial partners, the agreement will provide the DoD with ‘tactical communications’ across the Arctic and provide reach back to DoD locations around the world.

They added: ‘Under the agreement, Hughes will test and implement these end-to-end services on the OneWeb system between selected US Northern Command locations, a first step in harnessing the power of LEO satellites for high-speed, low-latency broadband access in the Arctic.’

Capability Set 1 of OneWeb’s Global Connectivity Platform goes live in November, comprising an initial constellation of 648 LEO satellites providing broadband Internet connectivity across North America, the Arctic and Europe.

OneWeb claims its solution will provide hitherto unseen data rates of up to 195Mbps and latency levels below 50ms.

’The OneWeb constellation has been designed to enable low-latency broadband access across the globe, allowing connectivity in previously unreached areas — a capability that is ideal for tactical, multi-domain operations in the Polar region and beyond,’ explained Dylan Browne, Head of Government Services at OneWeb.

As prime contractor, Hughes will lead adaptation, integration, testing and ongoing management of the service. OneWeb and Intellian will develop user terminals.

On 10 May, OneWeb announced it was buying Texas-based TrustComm. OneWeb stated that the deal would enable it to offer its LEO network and connectivity services to US government clients.

Elsewhere, the Boeing-led Integrated Remote Sensing for the Arctic (IRSA) Development Group (IDG) plans to run its first live demonstration in August 2021.

Comprising a coalition of SMEs including MDSI, C-CORE, Andøya Space, Lange Aviation, VTT, Scott Polar Research Institute, Viasat antenna systems and Karl Osen, the IDG will operate a variety of Earth observation satellites, UASs and C2 solutions to enhance situational awareness across the Arctic.

Exercise serials will include the positive identification of ‘dark target’ surface vessels across the Arctic. 

Designated ArcticX21, the demonstration will be observed by several undisclosed Arctic armed forces which are interested in creating a better understanding of the environment to support mission sets such as reconnaissance, search and rescue, environmental and disaster relief.

Video interview by Noemi Distefano, London

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