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CHIPS Articles: It's Time to Change the Way We Refer to SHF Satellite Communications

It's Time to Change the Way We Refer to SHF Satellite Communications
What's the flavor of your SHF SATCOM?
By Lt. Jason J. Hughes - October-December 2012
From a shipboard perspective, we can no longer strictly refer to super high frequency satellite communications as simply Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS) and Commercial Broadband Satellite Program (CBSP) operations. The lines between the bands for which DSCS and CBSP have traditionally operated have blurred due to employment of new military and commercial satellites and the installation of new multi-spectrum capable shipboard terminals with high data rates. Therefore, we must change the way in which we refer to these services in Communications Spot Reports (COMSPOT) to ensure there is no ambiguity or confusion between providers and customers when working to establish and activate these links or when working to restore lost services.

In this case, the providers are the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Atlantic and its subordinate and partner organizations. NCTAMS LANT provides secure and reliable classified and unclassified, voice, messaging, video and data telecommunications to its customers: surface, subsurface, air and ground forces in support of command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) for real-world operations and exercises and to U.S. naval, joint and coalition operating forces worldwide.

UHF Versus SHF

The narrowband ultra high frequency portion of the radio frequency spectrum has been referred to over the years as the “workhorse” of joint and naval communications; however, the demands and services we leverage on our SHF communications today brings into question which is truly the current workhorse of our Navy. Through this vital wideband link, afloat units gain access to email, Web browsing, chat rooms, message traffic, business systems database replication, file transfers and Voice over IP (VoIP) telephone service, and all through connection to the NIPRNET, SIPRNET, Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS), secure telephones, video teleconferencing, video teletraining, telemedicine/medical imagery, national primary image dissemination, intelligence database/tactical imagery, and more. So which part of the spectrum, UHF or SHF, could you live without for an extended period of time while deployed on a ship? Most communicators would probably put more emphasis on restoration of wideband links rather than narrowband links today.

In the past, the fleet received its SHF SATCOM from three distinct services. Force level for carriers and multipurpose amphibious assault ships and group level for cruisers and guided missile destroyers accessed the Defense Satellite Communications System with the AN/WSC-6 SATCOM terminal to a DSCS III Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) satellite that operated strictly in the X-band portion of the RF spectrum, for at most a T1 (1.544 megabytes per second (Mbps) to E1 (2.048 Mbps) data rate.

Most unit level access for frigates, mine countermeasures and coastal patrol ships accessed commercial Inmarsat satellite service with an Inmarsat terminal that operates strictly in the L-band portion of the RF spectrum, for nothing more than a 64 to 128 kilobyte per second (Kbps) data rate. Force level ships also had the ability to make use of commercial satellites for greater bandwidth up to 4 Mbps through the Commercial Wideband Satellite Program (CWSP) accessing service through an AN/WSC-8 SATCOM terminal to a commercial satellite that operated strictly in the C-band portion of the RF spectrum. During these times it was fairly clear to all stakeholders what exactly was meant when a unit was "down" on DSCS or CWSP.

The initial launch of the Wideband Global Satellite system in 2007, the replacement for the Defense Satellite Communications System III SLEP satellites, brought significant additional capacity to DSCS. In fact, one WGS satellite has about the same capacity as 10 DSCS III SLEP satellites.

The WGS satellites will complement the DSCS III SLEP and Global Broadcast Server (GBS) payloads and offset the eventual decline in DSCS III capability. The WGS system is a constellation of highly capable military communications satellites. WGS space vehicles (SVs) are the Department of Defense’s highest capacity satellites. Each WGS satellite provides service in both the X and Ka frequency bands, with the unprecedented ability to cross-band between the two frequencies onboard the satellite.

WGS supplements X-band communications, provided by the Defense Satellite Communications System and augments the one-way GBS service through new two-way Ka-band service. These SATCOM improvements have enabled the ability to assign a force level ship upwards of a single 8-megabyte SHF link or two 6-megabyte SHF links; however, the Ka-band is more susceptible to weather interference much as links operating in the extremely high frequency (EHF) spectrum.

Terminal Advances

The Navy has long used the AN/WSC-6 SATC OM terminal for SHF services. The AN/WSC-6(V)9 terminal installed on many guided missile destroyers enables the ability to also operate in the commercial C-band with a feed horn change out. A feed horn, horn or microwave horn is an antenna that consists of a flaring metal waveguide shaped like a horn to direct radio waves in a beam. The latest versions of the AN/WSC-6, F(V)9 and G(V)9 terminals allow simultaneous X and Ka-band operation. Therefore, it is possible for a unit to be up on the X-band and down on the Kaband; hence, the statement of a unit being down on DSCS leaves too much ambiguity as to whether a ship is up or down on SHF services.

In 2008, the U.S. Navy Communications Program Office, under the Program Executive Office for C4I, initiated the Commercial Broadband Satellite Program to acquire commercial SATCOM operating in the C-band, commercial X, Ku, and possibly other bands, as well as terrestrial and supporting requirements for three variants of CBSP terminals. The terminal in use is the AN/USC-69 that comes in a Force Level Variant (FLV), Unit Level Variant (ULV) and the Small Ship Variant (SSV).

The FLV is capable of operating in the Ku and C-bands and is intended to eventually replace the AN/WSC-8 terminals installed on force level units. The ULV is capable of operating in the Ku and X-bands and is mostly installed on frigates; the SSV is capable of operating only in the Ku-band, and is installed on mine countermeasures ships and coastal patrol craft and several Military Sealift Command units. Interestingly, the AN/USC-69 terminal also can allow operation in the Ka-band; however, it is not currently an option with the fleet variants in use today.

Mine countermeasures ships and patrol craft that are down on CBSP could only be down on commercial SHF SATCOM because there is no military satellite communications option that operates in the Ku-band. However, saying a frigate is down on CBSP can be confusing. From a frigate’s perspective, it is down because its AN/USC-69 terminal was acquired under the CBSP program which replaced the Inmarsat terminal previously installed. From initial install to completion of a system operational verification test, it has always been referred to as CBSP; however, this is a misnomer because CBSP is a program and not a service or circuit. SHF access could be provided from a ommercial Ku-and or an X-band satellite operated by a commercial provider or a military-owned DSCS satellite.

To add even more confusion, the new Navy Multiband Terminal (NMT), AN/WSC-9, is capable of operating in the Q, Ka, X and GBS bands. The AN/WSC-9 is intended to eventually replace the AN/WSC-6 terminals beginning in fiscal year 2013, according to the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence Systems Program Roadmap issued under OPNAVNOTE 3090 March 26, 2010. SATCOM changes are illustrated in Figures 1 and 2.

Communications Spot Reporting

The fleet’s primary method of reporting a communications outage or degradation of service is via a COMSPOT in accordance with Navy Telecommunications Procedures (NTP) 4, Appendix B, paragraph 2 of a COMSPOT is intended to list the system, service or circuit affected. In the past, we have been able to list the system and service as DSCS or CWSP with little ambiguity or confusion to all parties involved regarding the outage or degradation encountered. Now, we can clearly see that continuing to state DSCS and CBSP in paragraph 2 of a COMSPOT fails to clearly articulate the exact system or service outage. It is now important to state whether the system, service or circuit is military or commercial SATCOM and the operating band, the satellite the unit is receiving the services from and the SHF mission number for easy reference, in accordance with a naval message issued by Naval Network Warfare Command, COMNAVNETWARCOM DTG 01917ZAPR11.

To reduce ambiguity and ensure your outage is resolved as quickly as possible, see the examples below for recommendmendations on COMSPOT completion.

COMSPOT Examples

  • MILSATC OM X-BAND, ELNT, CS1234-12 (Military Satellite Communications X-band of RF spectrum, East LANT DSCS satellite, mission number CS1234-12)
  • MILSATC OM KA-BAND, ELNT, CS1234-12 (Military Satellite Communications Kaband of RF spectrum, East LANT DSCS satellite, mission number CS1234-12)
  • C-SATC OM C-BAND, IS-1002, CWS-123-12 (Commercial Satellite Communications C-band of RF spectrum, Intelsat Satellite 1002, mission number CWS-123-12)
  • C-SATC OM KU-BAND, IS-15, CWS-123-12 (Commercial Satellite Communications Ku-band of RF spectrum, Intelsat Satellite 15, Mission number CWS-123-12)
  • C-SATC OM X-BAND, SKY-5A, CWS-123-12 (Commercial Satellite Communications X-band of RF spectrum, Skynet satellite 5A, mission number CWS-123-12)

Lt. Jason J. Hughes recently served as NCTAMS LANT Joint Fleet Telecommunications Operations Center (JFTOC) director.

For more information about NCTAMS LANT, visit:

Figure 1. Graphic depicting past SHF configurations. The Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS) operated only within the X-band of the RF spectrum. Inmarsat (a commercial service) operated within the L-band of the RF spectrum. The Commercial Wideband Satellite Program (CWSP) operated only within the C-band of the RF spectrum.
Figure 2. Graphic depicting current SHF configurations. The Defense Satellite Communications System, with the inclusion of the Wideband Global Satellite (WGS ), brings the capability of Ka-band along with X-band military SHF SATC OM. The Commercial Broadband Satellite Program brings, in addition to traditional C-band, the ability to receive commercial SHF SATC OM via Ku-band and now X-band.
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