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Keeping PACE with the Military’s Connectivity Needs

Keeping PACE with the Military’s Connectivity Needs

Gaining an edge in the modern connected battlespace demands the most resilient beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) communications available. Advanced satellite communications networks, equipment and software let military commanders get connected – and stay connected – to battlefield assets through every phase of operations.

“Losing connectivity in the middle of a flight simply isn’t an option,” said Wes Cook, Director of Technical Sales for the Honeywell Aerospace defense business unit. “In a military ecosystem that is more complex and contested than ever before, commanders need redundant, no-fail, BVLOS-capable communications capabilities to gain advantage over their adversaries. That’s where the tried-and-true PACE planning concept shows its value.”

PACE, which stands for “Primary, Alternate, Contingency and Emergency,” has been used by military organizations for decades. Essentially, it’s a planning roadmap that mitigates risk and includes backup plans in case the “Primary” means of accomplishing a task fails.

“In the case of satellite communications, the PACE method ensures that a multi-mission aircraft – like a C-130J – can fly from its home base to the theater of operations and back again without ever losing connectivity,” Cook said. “Throughout the mission, it can effectively act as a node in the sky, moving data back and forth within the three-dimensional battlespace while being constantly connected to the best-available SATCOM band and network.”

Honeywell recently demonstrated the PACE concept using its own flying testbed, a specially equipped Boeing 757-200. SATCOM equipment and advanced Honeywell Forge software on the aircraft switched seamlessly between available commercial and military satellite networks with virtually no loss of data transmission during the handoff, according to Cook.   

“We turned our 757 into an enroute command and control node to demonstrate the resilience of the PACE approach using a full complement of Honeywell hardware, network management and support capabilities,” he added. “We were able to aggregate connectivity from all satellite operators into a consolidated Enterprise Management and Control (EM&C) analytics stack, powered by Honeywell Forge, to provide real-time performance monitoring of the aircraft and onboard connectivity systems.”

For the simulation, the aircraft was outfitted with the JetWave MCX, part of Honeywell’s renowned JetWave family of satellite communications systems. JetWave MCX is designed to meet the specific needs of military operators for high-speed, ultra-reliable broadband connectivity. The system can operate equally well on commercial or military Ka-band networks.

Before the 757 even took off for the simulation mission, the flight crew signed into the “Primary” option for this scenario – the Inmarsat Global Xpress (GX) commercial network – which provides global, seamless and reliable coverage and offers dedicated beams in the military Ka band.

Upon entering the simulated theater of operations, the crew switched over to the “Alternate” SATCOM option and began using the SES regional high-capacity Ka-band network. The dedicated military network uses GovSat Mil-Ka satellites to deliver high-throughput, low-latency coverage. The crew experienced on average less than one second of packet loss while switching from one network to the other. This phase of the flight used a Hughes HM-series modem, linked to the JetWave MCX system, which provides low probability of intercept, detection and anti-jamming characteristics.

In the next phase, the aircraft simulated entering a contested environment in which access to the Ka-band network was denied to produce the “Contingency” condition in the PACE model. The phase demonstrated metrics identified through the Honeywell Forge EM&C analytics stack that can be used to initiate a seamless “fail-over” to the Inmarsat SwiftBroadband network.

The SBB network  operates on L-band frequencies accessed by Honeywell’s Aspire family of SATCOM systems, including the Aspire 400 which was used in this simulation flight. The Aspire SATCOM systems, which also operate on the Iridium L-band network, deliver aircraft safety services and high-speed voice and data communications for cockpit and cabin connectivity.

These same L-band capabilities and Honeywell Aspire satellite communications systems deliver connectivity in the “Emergency” phase of flight, when other satellite signals are jammed or otherwise unavailable. Included are reliable datalink connections for safety services and 64 kbps messaging from the cockpit to other assets in the battlespace.

“After going through all phases in the satellite communications PACE planning model we reversed the process as we headed back to base,” Cook said. “We reconnected first with the regional Ka-band network and then with the GX network. The flight was extremely successful and the handoffs between the networks was flawless.”

“As a leader in connected aircraft solutions for military and commercial operators, Honeywell brings a unique set of strengths to the table,” he continued. “We aggregate connectivity from all satellite network operators to provide an optimized end-to-end architecture that includes hardware, network management and integration. We have other simulations planned as we continue to demonstrate the value of a PACE approach to provide military operators with the BVLOS communications capabilities they need to deliver mission success in the battlespaces of the 2020s and beyond.”

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