WASHINGTON – US Northern Command chief wants $ 80 million to continue testing SpaceX and OneWeb’s low-earth orbit satellite internet service, which he says could solve military communications problems in the Arctic .
US fighters rely on a mix of commercial and government satellites for global communications, but that infrastructure starts to be a bit thin above 65 degrees North. The availability of satellites above the 70 degree line is extremely limited, leaving US forces and sensors in the Arctic with much less connectivity than the rest of the military.
But a new generation of low-earth orbit satellites designed to provide commercial broadband could help fill this gap. Using constellations comprising hundreds of satellites, services such as SpaceX’s Starlink and OneWeb are being developed to provide internet access to any location on Earth from orbit.
Now NORAD and NORTHCOM Commander Gen. Glen VanHerck is asking for $ 79.8 million in his FY22 unfunded priority list obtained by Defense News to continue this effort. The funding will also be used to test new prototype terminals that can connect to multiple commercial constellations, a capability defined in the SATCOM Space Force Combat Vision.
In the long term, NORTHCOM suggests that this investment could encourage companies to develop more polar coverage with their constellations of communications satellites.
According to the unfunded priority list, SpaceX launched 10 Starlink satellites into polar orbit in January and plans to launch more than 100 this summer. OneWeb told C4ISRNET in May that it had launched 182 satellites with the intention of providing Arctic coverage by the end of 2021. This matches VanHerck’s letter, where it said it expects 24/7 Arctic coverage provided by several commercial providers around January 2022. The general noted that additional funding will be required in FY 23 and beyond for commercial service contracts and terminals.
Defense News reporter Joe Gould contributed to this report.