A Holistic SATCOM Strategy to Support the U.S. Government Arctic Vision

July 18, 2023 Blog

Steve Gizinski, President, Inmarsat Government

Satcom for early warning and ISR in the Arctic

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In recent years, the U.S. Government has significantly increased its activity in the Arctic. The Arctic is home to four million people, vast natural resources and unique ecosystems that create opportunities for sustained economic growth, according to the White House’s National Strategy for the Arctic Region. The region is emerging as more accessible than ever for the U.S. and its allies – but also for our adversaries.

To counter such threats, the U.S. Government seeks “an Arctic region that is peaceful, stable, prosperous and cooperative” with “guardrails to manage competition and resolve disputes without force or coercion,” according to the strategy. The 2022 National Defense Strategy echoes this by calling for greater early warning and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to support “a stable Arctic region characterized by adherence to internationally-agreed upon rules and norms.”

These guardrails and investments in stabilization are already in place, with more such allocations to come:

  • The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) maintains more than 22,000 forces in Alaska and several military bases in the region.
  • The Space Force is expanding its presence in the Arctic and is building a gateway site for the Enhanced Polar Systems-Recapitalization (EPS-R) payloads scheduled to launch in 2024.
  • The Air Force bases its top-of-the-line aircraft in Alaska because the location allows for easier deployments to missions in the Indo-Pacific while serving as a key refueling stop for aircraft.
  • The Army has established the 11th Airborne Division in the region to develop expertise in Arctic mobility and extreme cold weather operations.
  • The Navy has operations including submarines in the Arctic, and the Coast Guard has its Healy icebreaker focused on support for the Arctic region and is expanding its fleet.

The world’s militaries will continue to boost their presence in the Arctic manifested through increasing levels of training, troops, equipment, and infrastructure. In response to the expanding use of northern latitudes for air, land and sea operations, we have developed a holistic approach to deliver reliable and resilient SATCOM in this high-demand region. This includes partnering with Space Norway to develop two highly elliptical orbit (HEO) satellites, as well as providing cold weather hardening of terminals and software retrofits to ensure compatibility with HEO spacecraft operations.

Built by Northrop Grumman for the Arctic Satellite Broadband Mission (ASBM), the new HEO satellites will carry payloads for Viasat, the Norwegian Ministry of Defense and the U.S. Space Force. For government customers, the satellites would extend our award-winning Global Xpress wideband service, now operated by Viasat following the acquisition of Inmarsat on May 30th, 2023, and its military Ka-band (mil-Ka) capability via the Viasat GX10A and GX10B payloads, the first of which just completed thermal vacuum testing. The ASBM satellites are scheduled to launch in early Q3 2024 with service anticipated to begin by the end of 2024. Together, these satellites and the associated ground infrastructure represent the world’s first and only mobile wideband payloads dedicated to the Arctic region.

With this holistic satellite communications (SATCOM) approach for the Arctic region, we continue to pave the way, developing ground-breaking SATCOM solutions that anticipate and match accelerating demand for seamless mobile connectivity. Integrated into the Global Xpress network, the two satellite payloads will strengthen the capabilities of the combined Viasat and Inmarsat network to better enable mobile, global communications that are interoperable with military networks – allowing government users to benefit from a robust, highly resilient network and stay connected nearly anywhere in the world.

The extension of Global Xpress into the Arctic will enhance domain awareness, evolve infrastructure and strategic capabilities, and protect the environment and natural resources through the following technological advancements and enriched capabilities:

  • GX10A and GX10B are designed to provide continuous coverage above 65º North and deliver dynamic connectivity with the ability to direct capacity to the areas of highest demand in real time. This ensures high-speed wideband coverage and continuous, assured Global Xpress SATCOM as a Service capability with committed information rates. Additionally, the Military Ka-band steerables offer a Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS)-like system capability to the Arctic.
  • Building on current Global Xpress capabilities up to and beyond the 75th parallel North, the payloads should enrich network performance with optimized user access to services at a very high latitude with much higher elevation angles to expand available forward and return throughput.
  • We are actively working with value-added manufacturers to ensure support for HEO and cold weather operations, providing a full, end-to-end solution that strengthens military maneuverability and activity in the Artic.
  • Government users could travel to and from the Arctic region, seamlessly passing from one satellite or orbit to another and using the same terminal subscription. Again, this is made possible with the full and seamless integration of user terminals, satellites, orbits and payloads into the entire Global Xpress network.

We recognize that the Arctic will play an increasingly indispensable role as a contributor to the world economy and global stability, with users conducting critical operations there now more than ever. We take a strategic approach to ensure that we always stay ahead of where the mission is going and our government customers’ needs.

We plan to proceed at this rapid pace of innovation to further elevate our standing as an industry-leading pioneer and trusted government partner. If you would like to know more about how we can support your agency in the Arctic – or anywhere else in the world – then please contact us.