The United States military operates around 750 military bases across 80 sovereign nations, some near active conflict areas where having a reliable communication system is critical to maintaining civilian safety and coordinate operations. The U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command awarded SpaceX a $1.9 million contract to evaluate Starlink satellite internet service at military bases located in Europe and Africa for one year.
SpaceX operates approximately 2,287 Starlink satellites that already provide internet access to 37 countries, including Europe; Africa is still on "waitlist," according to the official Starlink Coverage Map at Starlink.com. The document mentions that "Starlink is the only Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite network provider that is currently being used in a contested environment: Ukraine." Thousands of Starlink user terminals were shipped to Ukraine in February to assist civilians when Russia aggressively invaded the country and destroyed ground based communications infrastructures.
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the Space Force Space Systems Command 'Global Lightning' program is testing capabilities of commercial internet providers to assess which one fits their needs. "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," the contract states.
Specifically, the Air Force plans to use Starlink on military units based at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. "The general requirement is a commercial satellite internet solution using Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite with available services in Europe and Africa to support the mission of the 86 Air Lift Wing and its tenant units," states the contract. "The intent of the contract is to provide either First-Generation or High-Performance satellite terminals and internet service either static/fixed site or portable/mobile to the terminals enabling users to connect devices to the internet. The expected throughput capabilities to be delivered by the Starlink high-performance terminal is up to 500Mbps download speed and low latency connectivity. The contractor shall provide internet service support for a period of performance of twelve (12) months estimated to begin 01 August 2022 – 31 July 2023," explains the Air Force contract.
Multiple satellite broadband providers were competing for this contract and the Air Force said it selected SpaceX Starlink because it “currently has the most well-established LEO satellite network […] whereas the LEO networks of its competitors are still in their infancy,” the document states. “Starlink LEO fulfils the requirement of reducing processing times and increases theatre-based operations on changing requirements and locations. It also builds in circuit resiliency through Software Defined Wide Area networking (SDWAN) for one of the units allowing for multiple transport sources. After extensive research it was found that SpaceX-Starlink is the only vendor able to provide this specialized communication service in the current areas of operation in the required time,” concludes the Air Force contract.
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