Cellular Satellites: Joint Communications with Integrated Acquisition

It’s a familiar image: a soldier crouching with a radio next to a spidery antenna pointing skyward to reach a distant satellite. But that view of military communications is on the verge of change, being replaced by troops rapidly exchanging data while moving seamlessly around the battle space.

Members of an Air Force, Navy, and Lockheed Martin team test the MUOS satellite communications system in Antarctica. (Air Force photo)
This progress is possible due to the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), the next-generation narrowband military satellite communication system that will support worldwide, multi-service users in the Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) band. MUOS will use Earth-orbiting satellites as the equivalent of cellphone towers in space, providing smartphone-like service that keeps users connected while on the move, and in challenging urban, jungle, or mountainous terrain. As the current UHF satellite constellation reaches the end of its life, MUOS will replace it with a communications capacity that is more than 10 times greater.

Through this improved connectivity, MUOS will provide military radios with a secure version of what users would expect from commercial cellular service: mission voice, data, and video on demand. It will connect warfighters on ships; in submarines, aircraft, and vehicles; and while dismounted and on the move, providing the vital link between troops in advanced positions or remote areas and the rest of the Department of Defense (DoD) military global network. Using MUOS will allow troops to stay in communication beyond line of sight, whether they are on the other side of a mountain, or the other side of the world, thereby enabling a more agile and expeditionary force.

This exponential increase in capability also brings a significant value proposition. MUOS supports all service branches and interfaces with Defense Information Systems Network (DISN) capabilities, reducing duplication and providing improved joint communications across the tactical and strategic environments. MUOS will function on numerous new or modified radios being developed by industry, supporting a competitive radio marketplace that will drive innovation and lower costs.

More than just satellites, MUOS is a complex DoD orchestra comprised of a five-satellite constellation, four ground stations across the globe, an integrated waveform, the radios, and a complex software to manage the network. It also requires that all these individual segments of the system work together seamlessly and reliably, which requires close coordination and teamwork across the programs delivering these capabilities. The acquisition warfighters of the Army Program Executive Office (PEO) for Command, Control and Communications- Tactical, and of the Navy PEO Space Systems have come together to meet this challenge and are on track to achieve MUOS full operational capability in 2017.

Capability Progress

MUOS satellites carry two distinct payloads. The legacy UHF payload provides the capability of the UHF Follow-On satellite constellation, while a new UHF MUOS waveform payload will significantly increase availability and throughput to the user. The dual-payload design supports a gradual transition to MUOS capability, allowing backward compatibility with legacy UHF terminals while providing a nextgeneration waveform to support communications on the move and higher data rates for dismounted users. The new MUOS waveform leverages widely used commercial Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA) cellphone technology.

The first satellite, MUOS-1, was launched from Cape Canaveral, FL in 2012, and transitioned into operational use for legacy terminal users in November of that year. MUOS-2 launched in July 2013, and relocated in January 2014 to its operational slot more than 22,000 miles above the Earth, where it also provides legacy UHF communications. MUOS-3 was launched in January 2015, and MUOS-4 was launched in September 2015. MUOS-4 will be relocated this spring to its on-orbit operational slot in preparation for operational acceptance. MUOS-5, an on-orbit spare, also will be launched this year.

In 2014, Lockheed Martin opened its Test Radio Access Facility (TRAF) to assist other industry providers in testing, developing, and certifying MUOS radio terminals and government applications more quickly in order to get MUOS’s advanced communications capabilities in warfighters’ hands faster.
Operationally, user information will flow to the satellites via UHF WCDMA links, and the satellites will relay that information to one of four interconnected ground sites in Hawaii, Virginia, Italy, and Australia via a Ka-band feeder link. These facilities identify the destination of the communications and route the information to the appropriate ground site for Ka-band uplink to the satellite, and UHF WCDMA downlink to the correct users — a rapid, behind-the-scenes process that is transparent to the warfighter.

To prove these capabilities, MUOS is progressing through a series of rigorous developmental and operational tests, while simultaneously leaning forward with select capability demonstrations in a variety of challenging environments. A major step took place in March 2013 with the first end-toend system test, and testing has continued with progressively more complex integration and scenario-based events. While each piece of the program conducted earlier laboratory evaluations to ensure they were meeting their individual requirements, the end-to-end tests bring all of the components from multiple programs together and demonstrate secure voice and data calls through MUOS-1 and the ground network. Utilizing the Army’s Handheld, Manpack, and Small Form Fit Manpack Radios, testers have completed a series of different call types, lasting from 3 minutes to 24 hours, with data rates up to 64 kilobytes per second. The test results have shown increased stability of the system, while allowing engineers to reduce risk by addressing integration issues that had not arisen during individual component tests.

In conjunction with the ongoing end-to-end tests, the team has supported several demonstrations to gauge MUOS potential in different operational scenarios while reducing risk for future record testing. One such demonstration was performed at the Arctic Circle in October 2013, where very high latitudes pose a challenge because the satellite is in geosynchronous orbit above the equator, and therefore harder to see. The MUOS team tested the ability of the Manpack Radio to reach the MUOS satellite communications network at latitudes up to 89.5 degrees north. The demo included both fixed-site locations around Anchorage and Barrow, Alaska, and aboard an aircraft operating above the Arctic Circle. The Manpack Radio successfully completed multiple point-to-point voice and data calls, as well as group calls connecting more than five radios.

Another demonstration, the Navy Submarine Ice Exercise, was conducted in March 2014. MUOS was operational for 15 days at Ice Camp Nautilus, a temporary research facility set up on the ice for Arctic submarine exercises, where operators successfully demonstrated long-term connections across multiple enclaves in a challenging environment.

In August 2014, the Air Force Research Laboratory conducted an airborne MUOS risk-reduction event featuring the in-flight demonstration of the MUOS waveform ported onto two different radios developed by two vendors — the PRC-155 HMS Manpack and the ARC-210 — on a C-17 aircraft. Both radios performed well, transmitting and receiving over the air while the aircraft was on the ground and while airborne, and recording progress in voice quality, data exchange, and airborne call completion rates.

The MUOS team further stressed the system during North American Aerospace Defense Command/Northern Command Arctic Shield and ICE CUBE in August 2014, and Pacific Command Operation Deep Freeze in November 2014, where they demonstrated MUOS network performance through multiple nodes in extreme latitudes. Other demonstrations continue, including assessments of communications performance with different applications and antenna configurations including the Joint Strike Fighter and a scenario-based integration event with Naval Special Forces.

Joint Acquisition Approach

The acquisition of this complex system across several program offices has not been without its challenges. The Navy’s Communications Satellite Program Office has overall responsibility to deliver MUOS end-to-end capability. It is supported by the Army’s Project Manager for Tactical Radios, which supplies the Manpack Radio, and Project Manager Joint Tactical Networks (JTN), which provides the MUOS waveform along with the network management system that provisions the radios and displays network information such as phone numbers and call groups. The Joint Tactical Networking Center maintains an information repository of secure networking waveforms and applications for the DoD, which allows for interoperability across the Joint Services and continuous upgrades to waveform capability.

The MUOS waveform is part of that repository and available to industry, enabling a competitive environment where different vendors can develop terminals and radios that support MUOS. Six vendors have already evaluated their hardware’s connectivity with MUOS by using three laboratories that opened in 2014: a Lockheed Martin facility in Sunnyvale, CA; a General Dynamics facility in Scottsdale, AZ; and a JTNC facility in San Diego, CA. By realistically simulating the MUOS satellite network and various challenging environmental conditions, the laboratories support the integration of new and existing terminals with MUOS capability.

For the Manpack Radio, which will be the primary MUOS terminal for ground users, the Army is moving forward with a competitive procurement of approximately 70,000 radios through the program’s Full Rate Production (FRP) phase. The Manpack, delivered in vehiclemounted and dismounted configurations, is the Army’s first two-channel, softwaredefined radio capable of supporting advanced and current force waveforms. Under a full and open competition, the Army plans to award contracts to multiple vendors, creating a “radio marketplace” where vendors will compete for delivery orders as needed, after they achieve technical and operational requirements.

To enable compatibility with MUOS, the Army developed the MUOS High Power Amplifier (MHPA) accessory to replace one of the Manpack’s standard High Power Amplifiers. The MHPA includes special circuit boards and a full duplex modem that allow the MUOS waveform to run on the standard Manpack Radio. This technology, which eventually will become part of the radio itself, also is planned for use by the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force.


Shoot, move and communicate — of these fundamental soldier skills, the ability to do the latter is changing rapidly. With adversaries taking full advantage of progress in the commercial communications market, continued modernization is essential for the U.S. military to maintain information dominance in the future.

MUOS is a critical piece of this plan, replacing the aging UHF satellite constellation with a significant increase in narrowband communication capability. Users will notice the difference — more bandwidth that is accessible on demand as opposed to preplanned channels, better voice quality, and reliable service, even in remote regions, urban environments, or inclement weather. By combining satellites with cellular technology, MUOS will provide troops on the move with highspeed voice, data, and network connectivity. To deliver these improvements, the MUOS team must manage significant technical and programmatic complexity, as well as interface with multiple vendors in a competitive environment.

This article was written by Maj. Gen. Daniel P. Hughes, Army Program Executive Officer for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical; and Rear Adm. Christian Becker, Navy Program Executive Officer both for Space Systems and for Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence for the Defense Acquisition University, Fort Belvoir, VA. For more information, visit www.dau.mil .