Insight | Ka-band: The best path forward for AISR


Ka-band: The best path forward for AISR


Global intelligence gathering operations are increasingly conducted from airborne platforms. Effectively employing these assets requires globally-portable, fully-connected and efficient beyond line of sight (BLOS) connectivity. As the military is evaluating its future data and communication technology to support these missions, Ka-band has emerged as the preferred path forward for the Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (AISR) community.

Inmarsat’s Global Xpress provides a critical and enabling worldwide Ka-band offering that is in-orbit and has been in operation since 2014. Users enjoy global, subscription-based AISR coverage with “all you can eat” connectivity coupled with simple, automatic access wherever they may be in the world. A single subscription provides an AISR user with wideband access anywhere, at any time. Furthermore, AISR fleets benefit from subscriptions that are portable among multiple platforms. This allows an entire fleet to share a modest number of subscriptions in support of active aircraft (as an example, a fleet of 20 aircraft can share five subscriptions that support five simultaneous operations). There are many unique and compelling qualities to Inmarsat’s Global Xpress service, which remains the world’s first and only globally, commercially available, high-speed wideband network.

Global and portable mil/commercial bandwidth

Global Xpress is the next-generation, fully redundant, global Ka-band advanced mobility solution from Inmarsat and is available today. It leverages deep experience and lessons learned from Inmarsat’s four decades of operational success supporting mobile satellite traffic and event-driven deployments. As a result, Global Xpress provides uniform worldwide coverage with the flexibility to move bandwidth seamlessly to meet demand – ideal for complex AISR missions with high data rate requirements. The service continues expanding with additional capacity and capability, including additional satellite launches currently planned in 2019, 2020 and 2021. Global Xpress secure network infrastructure provides Ka-band frequencies accessible by both military and civilian users, with terminals easily and seamlessly switching between military SATCOM (MILSATCOM) and commercial SATCOM (COMSATCOM) services. This is made possible since commercial and military Ka-bands are immediately adjacent to each other in frequency and both of these bands are available on Global Xpress satellites. This architecture allows the best of all worlds: worldwide, uniform coverage (Global Xpress SATCOM as a Service); dedicated, high-throughput Inmarsat mil-Ka service; and government MILSATCOM through the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) system when available with no changes to the AISR platform for the transitions.

Fully connected – connectivity that is available globally

Inmarsat has designed Global Xpress with spot beams that seamlessly provide global coverage – coverage that ensures an AISR platform never loses high-speed connectivity while conducting a mission. Global Xpress is also delivered as an end-to-end service – SATCOM as a Service – a “cloud” Ka-bandwidth model that fully integrates satellites, ground networks and type approved terminals. As such, Global Xpress supports a mission seamlessly anywhere, with solid service level agreements (SLAs) and guaranteed committed information rates (CIRs). Global Xpress also provides military Ka-band connectivity using steerable antennas. These antennas can be used to provide military Ka-band coverage of a theatre (up to 730MHz duplex bandwidth) or to follow an AISR platform and deliver very high EIRP and G/T coverage using channel sizes from 40MHz to 730MHz. This enables assured very high rate connectivity.

The AISR community generally prefers smaller apertures to maximize platform range and reduce signature. Global Xpress Ka-band enables an efficient platform installation using a low-size, weight and power (SWaP) user terminal. These terminals provide access to commercial and military Ka-band services worldwide with return link data rates that are very efficiently delivered. This supports user-specified data rates at much lower total cost to operate than other solutions. Using the standard Global Xpress commercial subscription service, small AISR terminals (30cm and 45cm apertures) support return link (platform to gateway) connectivity at rates up to 18Mbps. These same terminals support return link connectivity at rates up to 200Mbps using Inmarsat HCX mil-Ka beams.

Secure – designed from the ground up for government use

Inmarsat began the Global Xpress program with a special focus on government service needs, especially security. This started with our architecture design by ensuring that Global Xpress traffic only lands in NATO/Five Eyes countries to provide the highest level of mission assurance. These Inmarsat-controlled gateways are outfitted with secure facilities and are highly resilient, offering full hot-backup connectivity to every satellite. Provisions have been made throughout the network to provide improved Operational Security (OPSEC) for sensitive missions. Finally, by choosing Inmarsat’s narrow-beam Ka-band services, customers gain a significant amount of operational security over wide coverage area beams where adversarial user geolocation is readily done today.

Cost-efficient turnkey services – available today

The high performance, high security and global availability of Global Xpress are of utmost importance. Equally important is the fact that Inmarsat provides a turnkey space and ground segment that underpins its service. The ability of AISR users to have global coverage, while having their demand drive resource allocation “on-the-fly,” significantly reduces total cost of ownership while offering a premium service. There is no waiting for the “next promise” – users can validate the capabilities of Global Xpress today and get critical missions into global service quickly. These are the compelling reasons why users choose Global Xpress Ka-band for their AISR needs.

If this sort of enabling connectivity is of interest to you, whether you are an integrator or an end user, please reach out to Inmarsat for a detailed conversation.

About the author

Steve Gizinski is Chief Technology Officer of Inmarsat Government Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Inmarsat plc, and the world’s leading provider of global mobile satellite communications to the United States government.