Some UHF Satcom Help From Down Under

Australia will help meet demand for battlefield communications support in Afghanistan until a new Navy satellite is ready.

Ground forces in Afghanistan rely heavily on UHF satellites for voice communications. Currently that demand is met by a fleet of eight aging Navy-developed satellites that cannot keep up with the volume of battlefield communications.

The Australian Defense Force will help fill some of the demand when it takes control of a UHF military communications package on the commercial Intelsat 22 satellite launched this March and designed to serve the Indian Ocean region, which includes Afghanistan.

Australia spent $479 million for the UHF payload on Intelsat 22, which provides 20, 25Khz channels. Steve Davis, a spokesman for the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, said the United States has an agreement with Australia to use 10 of those channels. In return, the United States will provide an equivalent amount of capacity on its military satellites, he said.

Davis said the UHF payload on Intelsat 22 has been turned on and is currently undergoing on orbit test. It is expected to be made available for operational use by the end of the month, he said.

The Australian UHF capacity will help plug a communications gap until the Navy turns on the first of its UHF replacement satellites, called the Mobile User Objective System. The Navy launched its first MUOS satellite on Feb. 24 and Davis said it is expected to go into operation this summer.

Lockheed Martin Corp. has a $5 billion contract to build five MUOS satellites, which will provide what Davis called “legacy” UHF service and advanced wideband cellular communications service.