May 21, 2015: Strategy Page
U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) has sponsored work on lighter and more powerful portable satellite dishes for decades. What SOCOM operators need the most are back packable gear that can send video, especially during a stakeout (a common activity for Special Forces operators) of a target for missile armed warplanes or UAVs overhead. The latest breakthrough is GATR, a 26.3 kg (58 pound) 1.2 meter (47 inch) satellite dish in an inflatable sphere. This gear can upload 2 mbps (one million bits per second, about 100,000 bytes per second) and download 5 mbps. This is the lightest back packable dish with that kind of bandwidth. SOCOM has bought nearly a hundred of these so far. Most of the time SOCOM operators can get by with lighter satellite communications, with much lower bandwidth.
For example in 2012 SOCOM bought $170 million of new satellite communications gear with a max download speed of 1 mbps. What was most important about this gear was that it was portable (via hummer or backpack) and provided Special Forces operators with high speed satellite communications using 60 cm (24 inch) satellite dishes. Special Forces operators need these communications tool for when they are out in the hills, out beyond cell phones and most wireless forms of communication. Satellite phones have been used for over a decade but these devices have limited data capacity (about 25,000 bits per second).
Typical portable systems like this weigh less than 15 kg (33 pounds) and can be carried in two suitcases or in a backpack. This gear can operate off battery power and are rugged enough to survive water, sand, extreme temperatures, and other hard knocks. These systems allow a Special Forces team to access multiple live video feeds, as well as downloading complex maps and other images. All this is heavily encrypted to make eavesdropping very difficult. Set up time is less than ten minutes and the small dish will automatically locate and lock onto the desired satellite. This equipment has been available for over two decades but they have become smaller, cheaper, faster, more rugged, and reliable every year. Most importantly, they do not require a communications specialist to set up or operate. SOCOM has several thousand of these portable systems.