SATCOM Up North

Canada gains access to MUOS. (USSF)
Canada gains access to MUOS. (USSF)

Canada has become the first allied nation to access the United States’ MUOS SATCOM system representing an important enhancement for Canadian armed forces communications.

The Royal Canadian Navy’s Lieutenant Commander Cameron Chapman, MUOS capability integration manager, in the centre of this picture, takes a voice call across the MUOS constellation during a recent demonstration of this capability.

The Mobile User Objective System, also known as MUOS, is a Satellite Communications (SATCOM) constellation run by the US Space Force (USSF) with Lockheed Martin as the prime contractor. The constellation provides Ultra High Frequency (UHF: 240 megahertz to 270 megahertz) narrowband SATCOM. Open sources say that MUOS provides voice and data communications using data rates of up to 384 kilobits-per-second. Communications with the five-spacecraft constellation are possible using the Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA) waveform. The waveform can be installed on, and used by, standard UHF tactical radios.

Canada has become the first allied nation to gain access to the MUOS constellation, the USSF announced on 30th November 2023. According to reports, a demonstration of MUOS voice and data connectivity took place in October 2023 using tactical radios presumably carrying the WCDMA waveform. The demonstration took place at two locations in Ottawa. Canada’s access to MUOS is the culmination of work which commenced in 2019 following Ottawa’s conclusion of a Foreign Military Sale (FMS) with the US. The FMS covered Canada’s access to the constellation. Further demonstrations, reports continued, are planned for March 2024.

TNS-GEO

A Canadian Department of National Defence (DND) spokesperson told Armada that MUOS access forms part of the DND’s wider Tactical Narrowband SATCOM Geosynchronous (TNS-GEO) project. TNS-GEO is providing global, secure and reliable tactical beyond line-of-sight communications for Canada’s military.

The spokesperson continued that MUOS will support point-to-point, point-to-network, group calls and gateways into other Canadian military communications networks. From a hardware perspective, the Canadian military’s L3Harris AN/PRC-117G multiband (30 megahertz to three gigahertz) tactical radios will be upgraded to carry MUOS traffic. Beyond these transceivers, “each branch of the Canadian armed forces has a different concept of employment for how they will leverage the MUOS capability,” says the spokesperson. “Therefore, each will have distinct radio terminal requirements.”

Outlook

MUOS is the latest addition to Canadian military SATCOM capabilities which also include access to the US Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) and Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) constellations. AEHF carries traffic across 44GHz uplink and 20GHz downlink frequencies. WGS carries traffic across X-band (7.9GHz to 8.4GHz uplink/7.25GHz to 7.75GHz downlink) and Ka-band (26.5GHz to 40GHz uplink/18GHz to 20GHz downlink). WGS provides data rates of up to 2.1 gigabits-per-second while the AEHF constellation’s data rates are between 75 bits-per-second and eight megabits-per-second. “The MUOS constellation provides the narrowband communications (and thus) becomes a vital piece in the overall communications roadmap.”

The Canadian government will begin paying an annual fee to its US counterpart to access MUOS from the spring of 2024 which will coincide with the Canadian armed forces gaining access to the constellation. An Initial Operational Capability (IOC) covering Canadian MUOS access is expected in 2024. The spokesperson said the IOC will provide voice and data communications. A Full Operational Capability (FOC) is planned for 2026 which will add gateways via MUOS into other Canadian military networks. Six years of access to MUOS are initially provided, the spokesperson said, with the possibility to add a further nine years’ access.

MUOS access reflects the DND’s desire to address SATCOM deficiencies it has suffered in the past and to do this though a strong partnership with the US Department of Defence, the spokesperson emphasised. “Space is a vital domain for global security. Canadian armed forces’ space-related activities are essential for the command and control of military operations at home and abroad.”

Canadian MUOS Training Cadre. (USSF)
Canadian MUOS Training Cadre. (USSF)

The cohort of students taking Canada’s SATCOM Operation Course at the DND’s National Defence Headquarters campus in Ottawa.

by Dr. Thomas Withington