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Fortifying Communications in the Final Frontier

The ongoing war in Ukraine continues to expand the list of lessons learned for the U.S. Department of Defense and its international partners, particularly across the NATO alliance.

One of the most significant lessons has been the need to deploy and maintain secure and resilient lines of communications, especially when operating in complex operating environments against highly capable peer adversaries.

Across the globe, satellite providers are promising mature connectivity solutions, but, as the war has illustrated, assuring space-based communications in a contested battle space is easier said than done.

"Early in the conflict, commercial low-Earth orbit constellation terminals were deployed to Ukraine; there was good and bad that came out of that," Jake Williams, L3Harris Technologies director of business development, said. "It was very clear that there was a place and use for them, but it quickly became apparent they didn’t offer the levels in resiliency required by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, so concepts of operation were changed."

These commercial solutions could not be used in every scenario because their signatures could be identified and triangulated, according to Williams. While these terminals provided rapid Satellite Communications (SATCOM) deployability, they did not provide the resiliency required for armed forces in the 21st century.

Fortifying Communications: Soldier using SATCOM in the field

"In order to get to a data-centric world that we’re trying to move to, we’re going to have to have a resilient environment, and that’s going to be key," Maj. Gen. Jeth Rey, director of the U.S. Army Network Cross Functional Team, said during an AUSA Global Force presentation in March.

Resilient transport – leveraging all available spectrums, from 5G to low-, medium- and geosynchronous Earth orbit – will be critical to meeting this need, Rey added, as will auto-PACE capabilities, convergence of commercial and military satellite communications, new waveforms, open-system architectures and enhanced encryption.


L3Harris’ variety of modems, terminals and waveforms, among other company products and services deliver true SATCOM resiliency,  according to Jerry Adams, L3Harris general manager for SATCOM programs.

“Resiliency is a broad term for a number of methods to either protect over-the-air communications or make it difficult to locate a user of communications equipment,” Adams said. “L3Harris employs multiple methods of resilience to provide armed forces with true resiliency today.”

True resiliency requires multiple methods and communications pathways, from anti-jam techniques; protected waveforms; multi-path, multi-orbit and multi-constellation diversity; and interference avoidance.

“Our near-peer adversaries are using more sophisticated electronic warfare technologies and employing advanced techniques that aim to prevent a warfighter’s connectivity, in addition to attempting to locate, exploit and intercept the warfighter and their beyond-line-of-sight communications,” Adams said. “L3Harris is in a unique position to offer end-to-end resilience starting from the ground tactical network, over SATCOM backhauls, back to users with whom you need to communicate securely.”

Most SATCOM offerings today are in geosynchronous orbit, but L3Harris is delivering products and capabilities that provide medium-Earth orbit (MEO) and low-Earth orbit (LEO) connectivity, Adams added.

Modems include L3Harris’ MPM-3000, A3M and MCM in addition to solutions from commercial vendors. 

Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) being set up

Very Small Aperture Terminals, or VSATs, including the Panther™ II and Hawkeye™ III Lite, are already in service across the U.S. Department of Defense and a number of international customers.

Additional options include the Hawkeye 4 Lite 1.3m Flyaway; Shadow™ Ku-band Flat Panel; and Darkwing™ Ka-Band Flat Panel terminal – a lightweight, portable terminal that can be carried in a backpack to support on-the-pause communications.

“Darkwing uses a commercial Global Xpress service, which supports spot beams for very focused data transfer,” Adams said. “We have been shipping for more than a year to U.S. and international customers who operate a layered approach with different modems and waveforms.”

Traditional terminals can measure 2 meters in aperture. However, L3Harris is developing terminals less than 1 meter in aperture running the same resilient waveforms but better suited to support mobility requirements.

“We offer the most advanced, ruggedized multiband and lightweight terminals that utilize the commercial and government constellations and deliver the most advanced resilient waveform options in the market,” Adams said.

As of the beginning of 2023, the company’s capabilities portfolio also features a line of Tactical Data Link (TDL) solutions, including Link 16, extending the resilient communications options it can deliver.

Learn More about L3Harris VSAT SATCOM Solutions


L3Harris recently received an award for a program in Europe leveraging Hawkeye IIIs, modems and resilient waveforms that perfectly illustrates the demand for true resiliency in SATCOM, Adams said.

Customers are buying systems that run across the X-, Ka- and Ku- frequency bands, which provide them flexibility to vary their communications based on current needs and their environments, he added. Tying that capability to L3Harris’ waveforms and protected modems provide them needed resilience in their communications.

“Customers are now looking at low- and medium-Earth orbits in different ways, and the company is working through a commercial Ku-band flat panel active electronically scanned array solution for LEO, as well as MEO terminals capable of additionally supporting LEO SATCOM,” Adams said.

L3Harris is in the process of integrating an increasing number of commercial capabilities to make SATCOM even more resilient, according to Knapp.

“This is getting traction both domestically and internationally,” he said. “When our customers look at their portfolio of communications devices – which deliver the right information to the right place, at the right time – they will be either legacy L3, legacy Harris or L3Harris products pretty much across the board from HF to VHF and UHF to SATCOM as well as data links for ISR and strategic weapons.”

Spectrum Magazine

Use of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.