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United States Air Force General Terrence O’Shaughnessy, Commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said that both China and Russia are "investing heavily" in the Arctic, "determined to exploit the region’s economic and strategic potential." He believes the Arctic "is now a battle-space" which requires "continued investment." Says the U.S. military "needs to train in Arctic conditions" but one of his main concerns in the Arctic is "basic communication," since satellites are currently not operating there and ground stations are unreliable.
When asked by Joint Force Quarterly Journal reporters, "What are some no-fail requirements we must stay ahead of, particularly in the Arctic?" General O’Shaughnessy responded: "One is to maintain domain awareness— we need to understand what is happening at sea, in the air, and on land in the Arctic region and that’s something we need to continue to work on. Second, we need to be able to communicate; our traditional communications methods, unfortunately, don’t always work within the Arctic. For example, north of about 65°, our satellite communication is significantly degraded and even traditional navigation methods are hindered."
General O’Shaughnessy's "number one priority" is to provide internet communication network to the Arctic area. U.S. military has been working in coordination with commercial companies, which include SpaceX and OneWeb to find a solution. He stated:
"It is my number one priority to have Arctic com's, and I think the proliferation of LEO (low earth orbit satellites) and a Starlink or a OneWeb type solution is the way to get it fastest."
The U.S. military has awarded contracts to SpaceX Starlink and OneWeb to test and asses commercial satellites. They will test out both companies' internet-beaming constellations to keep military platforms connected. Including hooking up internet terminals to war fighter airplanes. Signal from space is more reliable than signal coming from terrestrial internet infrastructure.
SpaceX's Starlink satellite constellation currently consists of 290 internet-beaming satellites out of the 12,000 that the company aims to deploy. Starlink internet has been previously tested by the military, it demonstrated fast internet speeds of 610 megabits per second, equivalent to a gigabyte every ~13 seconds.
OneWeb deployed 35 internet-beaming satellites this month and aim to deploy more soon. OneWeb hopes to eventually operate at least 650 satellites in low Earth orbit. Their satellites demonstrated internet speeds of up to 400 megabits per second. OneWeb officials said they expect to achieve 24 hour coverage in the Arctic by 2021.
General O’Shaughnessy also explained that to maintain an appropriate homeland defense posture in response to a threat coming from an adversary, investing in satellite networks to detect threats is better than depending on ground-based radars, he said: "A clear example of this is found as we prepare to defend against hypersonic weapons. We could put a lot of time, money, and effort into the land-based radar solution that will never get us where we need to be to detect and track a hypersonic weapon; we have to track the weapon throughout its path, from launch to intercept. So this leads us to a new approach—solving problems in new ways with new technology. But how do we combine these? In many ways it will depend on commercial industry. Whether it’s One Web or Starlink, the proliferation of LEOs [low-Earth orbit satellites] is something our military needs to take advantage of because of not only space access but also the significant decrease in the cost to reach space. We can also take advantage of the capability that’s going to be in LEOs for communications down the road. An intuitive sensing grid—from undersea, to maritime, to terrestrial, to air, to a space-based layer—can ultimately lead to a system of systems. But we have to bring it all together in a resilient, redundant architecture where we can effectively command and control those networked capabilities. I look forward to the day when we have an established, all-domain sensor network, where anything can sense anything."
The U.S. Air Force is seeking $130 million to invest in satellite communication for fiscal year 2021. O’Shaughnessy explained to Congressional defense committees that the funding will be invested in communications technology, which includes the development of prototype terminals compatible with SpaceX Starlink and OneWeb satellites for military platforms.
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.