Global Xpress: Ascending to the next level of unmanned AISR performance


Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch, Inmarsat’s SVP, Government Strategy & Policy, U. S. Government, discusses how Inmarsat Global Xpress is positioned to expand the flexibility and bandwidth needs of unmanned Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (AISR) platforms.

Unmanned Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (AISR) missions have served our nation well over the decades. It was in the 1960s during the Vietnam War that unmanned aircraft initially emerged as highly valued surveillance asset. Since then, technological innovation – including satellite communications (SATCOM) – has greatly increased both manned and unmanned AISR capabilities to accommodate a wide array of missions from strategic to tactical.

High-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) aircraft can fly as high as 60,000 feet, for example, for up to 32 hours over vast stretches of oceans and terrain. This proves essential in the modern age of global operations. Military as well as other federal sector units depend upon the “anytime/anywhere” transmission of video and data from these remotely piloted aircraft (RPA).

As AISR performance has ascended to astonishingly advanced levels, so should the SATCOM solutions supporting the missions. According to the Government and Military Satellite Communications, 11th Edition, report from Northern Sky Research (NSR), AISR is “a critical component of military activity and will only become more important in the coming years.” Demand for these RPA for SATCOM connectivity will continue to grow as “advanced technologies and sensor suites will gather more information and require an even greater bandwidth link to transfer the data gathered,” according to the report.

Traditional Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) SATCOM operators have adequately responded to prior needs by supplying bandwidth in needed regions. However, this type of FSS capacity was originally designed for broadcast-centric, fixed users. The current military operational tempo and highly mobile applications demand wideband mobility solutions to meet the requirements of highly agile and worldwide AISR missions. Investments and innovation brought by the satellite industry represent an opportunity for the Department of Defense (DoD) to capitalize on the availability of complementary commercial satellite systems. This will increase the effectiveness, flexibility and redundancy of military satellite systems for intensely global AISR missions.

Global Xpress brings fully complementary services

Although the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) system is available with satellites in orbit today, there is often competing demand and priorities for WGS capacity during geographic or mission-specific surges in use. And when these surges occur, it is essential that the military leverage an integrated SATCOM architecture to insure complementary and flexible commercial SATCOM capacity is available that is reliable and accessible when and where needed.  Utilizing commercial SATCOM that is interoperable in military Ka-band as well as operating in the adjacent commercial Ka spectrum increases the flexibility, robustness and complementarity of the satellite communication support to these critical mission sets.

Through Global Xpress, Inmarsat enables government users to progress to this state of optimal operations at anytime, anywhere around the world. The result of a $1.6 billion investment on the part of Inmarsat, Global Xpress is the first commercial high-throughput wideband network that spans the world. It delivers globally available, seamless Ka-band connectivity on land, at sea, and in the air – provided by a single operator.

The unique advantage of Ka-band is that it is the only frequency where the commercial and military bands are adjacent to each other, so commercial solutions can transparently complement MILSATCOM capacity. While this is certainly true for interoperability for U.S. military users of WGS, it is similarly accessible by NATO and AUSCANZUKUS users.  Thus, this interoperable capability of WGS and Global Xpress increases the ability to support the international Allied partnerships. It also increases the resiliency of the networks in support of the wide range of AISR missions.  From an affordability perspective, the integrated SATCOM networks leverage existing and planned SATCOM terminals as well as existing waveforms while taking advantage of a diverse ground segment made up of both military and Inmarsat secure ground sites, dispersed globally. Therefore, paving the way for greater “freedom of choice” in considering mobile communication options, empowering global users with best-of-breed capabilities.

With Global Xpress, AISR platforms benefit from Ka-band antennas that are one-quarter the size of Ku-band, as small as 30 cm, which makes for an ideal fit on smaller airframes while blending into aerodynamic surfaces better, extending fuel efficiency and range. Global Xpress satellite constellation provides uniform coverage in both bandwidth and power with the flexibility to move bandwidth seamlessly into demanding regions. The Global Xpress spot beam architecture supports a uniform distribution of power and allows for frequency of use and a consistent, uninterrupted user experience, anytime/anywhere. DoD units have the option of using Global Xpress or WGS (as subject to WGS availability).  For enhance operational flexibility when the RPA travels to and from its base and the intended theater of operations, the Global Xpress steerable spot beams worldwide “follow” the platform no matter how high the aircraft flies or how many thousands of miles it covers.

Throughout its history, government has always taken pride in looking inward to identify needs and outward to ponder the possibilities of “What if?” The changing face and formidable functionality of RPA and other AISR platforms reflect this. So does Inmarsat Global Xpress. In working as a fully committed and trusted partner to the government customer, we deliver SATCOM services with unparalleled flexibility, mobility, reliability and interoperable capability. While we may not know what part of the globe AISR platforms will traverse tomorrow, we do know that Global Xpress stands ready to support the mission everywhere needed.

About the author

Rebecca M. Cowen-Hirsch is Inmarsat Senior Vice President for Government Strategy and Policy in the United States Government (USG) Business Unit, based in Washington. Ms. Cowen-Hirsch brings 25 years of defense, aerospace, and executive leadership experience to Inmarsat. As a decorated member of the Senior Executive Service (SES) in the U.S. Department of Defense, she served as the Program Executive Officer for SATCOM, Teleport and Services at the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) and in several key SES executive positions including the first Vice Component Acquisition Executive for DISA, with executive management responsibility for the acquisition oversight and horizontal integration of DISA’s products, services, and programs. Ms Cowen-Hirsch established the Defense Spectrum Office, serving as its first Director where her responsibilities included the development of national security spectrum strategic plans and policy, and national and international negotiation of defense spectrum issues. Her broad defense career ranged from systems engineering, experimental flight test, program management, spectrum management, and a wide range of executive leadership positions. Ms. Cowen-Hirsch was a rated experimental flight test engineer; was the first female civilian Mission Commander for the Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft (ARIA) mission, and was the recipient of an Exemplary Service Medal for her years of selfless service to the Department of Defense. Ms Cowen-Hirsch has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering, conducted post-graduate studies in Engineering Management, and is a graduate of the University of Tennessee Space Institute Experimental Flight Test Program; the DoD’s Acquisition Management Program; and the Cambridge Senior Executive Leadership Program.