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Digital Battlespace

Australia fields trailer-mounted SATCOM

20th May 2021 - 02:37 GMT | by Gordon Arthur in Christchurch

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A Hawkei tows a trailer-mounted SATCOM system developed by Boeing. (Boeing Defence Australia)

The Australian Army's communications upgrade continues with the release of SATCOM terminals mounted on trailers.

Australia’s Department of Defence has accepted the first trailer-mounted SATCOM terminals with 2.5m-diameter satellite dishes from Boeing Defence Australia (BDA).

A total of 24 Medium SATCOM Terminals (MST) will be deployed to the Australian Army’s three combat signal regiments, as well as the Defence Force School of Signals and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

BDA claimed these rapidly deployable MSTs are ‘the only secure SATCOM system of its size with dual-band certification for the military’s Wideband Global SATCOM X and Ka bands, in addition to the civilian Ku band’.

Ian Vett, BDA’s Project Currawong director, stated: ‘The MST is versatile, flexible and robust and takes communications in the field to the next level. Its ability to go anywhere a Hawkei vehicle can go and seamlessly connect to both military and civilian satellites far exceeds any SATCOM capability currently available to the warfighter.’

As mentioned, the Thales Hawkei will tow around these trailer-mounted terminals in the field. The communication system transfers secure wideband voice, data and video services over wireless and wired infrastructure between Australia’s land-based deployed forces and headquarters.

These terminals form part of Project Land 2072 Phase 2B, also known as Project Currawong. The multi-million-dollar programme saw BDA sign a contract on 3 September 2015, covering five years of acquisition plus a performance-based sustainment contract. It provides the military with a sovereign and scalable Integrated Battlespace Telecommunications Network.

The Currawong Mission System Manager (MSM) controls the MSTs, automating network planning, configuration and control of all communications components within the system.

A Medium SATCOM Terminal mounted on a single-axle trailer. (BDA)

Vett noted: ‘Existing off-the-shelf equipment was not certified to the operational standards required for modern military missions, so the five-year development and production programme for MST has required complex engineering design and integration works, extensive production and testing. This involved upwards of 100 modifications to the original design and the inclusion of 198 subsystems and modules to the MST.’ This compares with just 44 modifications implemented on high-capability line-of-sight radios that BDA developed for Project Currawong.

Project Land 2072 Phase 2B has three stages. Release 1 provided the core network and MSM within man-portable units, achieving an initial operating capability in April 2018, months ahead of schedule. The system replaced the legacy Parakeet tactical satellite and trunk communications system.

This transit case version of the communications system was initially fielded by the 7th Combat Signal Regiment, 1 Signal Regiment and 1 Combat Communications Squadron (based at RAAF Base Amberley). 

They received 18 deployable communication nodes and a fixed strategic communications anchor site. Since then, BDA has rolled out further examples to army and RAAF units.

Then, in April 2020, the government signed off on a system acceptance audit of Release 2. This stage included External Network Access Points that allow the military to securely communicate using untrusted, public networks such as the internet. Release 2 also included a troposcatter system and more powerful transmission bearers.

Release 3 covers these aforementioned trailer-mounted SATCOM terminals plus mobile SATCOM-on-the-move communications for Bushmaster command vehicles. This release is due for completion by the end of 2021.

BDA actually employed a prototypical headquarters-on-the-move communication system for the first time in Exercise Talisman Sabre 2019. Fitted to a Bushmaster, it was trialled some 18 months ahead of schedule.

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