Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) plans to conduct tests using SpaceX Starlink low Earth orbit (LEO) communications satellites to aid operations.
A partially redacted Aug. 5 business notice said that the 1st Special Operations Contracting Squadron plans “a limited rollout” of Starlink “to conduct a 12-month operational evaluation.”
“The requirement is to provide five Starlink high performance ground kits and Starlink global access service hosted to Starlink’s low Earth orbit satellite constellation,” said the notice, which redacted the locations and specific units and platforms that are to test Starlink.
The 1st Special Operations Contracting Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla., provides contracting support for the 1st Special Operations Wing, which includes a number of AFSOC aircraft, including Lockheed Martin [LMT] MC-130J Commando IIs, AC-130J Ghost Rider gunships, and CV-22 tiltrotors by Bell [TXT] and Boeing [BA].
“Starlink is the only LEO constellation communications company that currently provides this commercial satellite solution with services to Europe and Africa,” per the Aug. 5 business notice. “The requirement calls for a LEO SATCOM company service that is capable of providing portability for both EUCOM [U.S. European Command] and AFRICOM [U.S. Africa Command] area of responsibility. Various companies are competing to establish LEO, medium Earth orbit (MEO), and geostationary Earth orbit (GEO) satellite internet networks. However, SpaceX’s Starlink currently has the most well-established LEO satellite network with more than 1,350 satellites, whereas the LEO networks of its competitors are still in their infancy.”
The Aug. 5 business notice said that the other LEO internet providers–Amazon, Inc. [AMZN]; Amazon’s Kuiper Systems; OneWeb; and Telesat Corp. [TSAT]–are not “currently capable of providing any service in both Europe and Africa.”
Starlink LEO, which is to provide AFSOC operational testers with download rates of up to 500 megabits per second and upload rates of up to 50 megabits per second, “builds in circuit resiliency through Software Defined Wide Area networking (SDWANS) for one of the units allowing for multiple transport sources,” the notice said.
DoD and the contractors that support it appear to be taking heed of commercial data transfer rates and shifting from kilobits per second rates to hundreds of megabits per second to provide data more rapidly to military forces (Defense Daily, Sept. 24, 2020).
The Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Defense Experimentation Using Commercial Space Internet (DEUCSI) program–also known as “Global Lightning”–has sought to use commercial space internet networks for Air Force communications.
“AFRL has discovered that in a contested environment, LEO constellations are much more resilient to signal jamming and also provide the low latency required to support tactical missions,” per the Aug. 5 AFSOC business notice.