GAO continues to criticize the Department of Defense’s handling of narrowband satellite communications
The report, released on September 2, focuses on the Mobile Consumer System (MUOS), a network of five geosynchronous satellites operated by the US Navy. The system was conceived nearly two decades ago as a satellite cellular network for voice and data for mobile forces. Although the full constellation of MUOS satellites has been in orbit for four years, DoD has not provided enough consumer phones and terminals to take advantage of the features of the more advanced Broadband Broadband (WCDMA) payload. Most users have older terminals that only communicate with the other payload of MUOS, a legacy ultra high frequency (UHF) system. GAO has called on DoD on this issue in a number of reports and the latter suggests that the issues have not been resolved.
“DoD failed to take advantage of the system’s advanced capabilities, such as a 10-fold increase in communication capacity. “A key reason is the delayed delivery of compatible radio terminals to military users,” GAO said. Over the years, GAO has criticized DoD for the fragmented management of the MUOS program. The Navy was given responsibility for the purchase of satellites and ground systems, but the main intended customers were the Army and Marines, who were responsible for the purchase of their specific MUOS terminals.
The report also warns that DoD “faces the challenge of starting to decide what comes next, as MUOS’ current ability to ensure that SATCOM’s needs for a narrowband fighter will continue to be met before 2034, when the current MUOS system is expected to deteriorate. ” Initially, the Navy and Army planned to display MUOS satellites and compatible terminals at the same time, but technical challenges thwarted that plan. The Navy began developing the MUOS in 2004 and failed during operational tests, GAO noted. That same year, the military began developing portable, software-defined radio terminals — some of which would be compatible with MUOS — and also faced development problems.
“Consumer needs will remain unmet unless DoD explores additional options and takes steps to provide additional short-term narrowband capabilities during the transition to advanced MUOS capabilities,” GAO said. The Ministry of Defense, in response to GAO’s findings, said it was funding and developing plans to speed up the delivery and delivery of these terminals. The Navy recently transferred control of the MUOS system to the US space force.
GAO said the Pentagon should offer other options for providing narrowband satellite communications services in the near future. He also recommended that the Ministry of Defense update its future requirements for narrowband satellite communications for the Space Forces to begin planning a follow-up program to replace the MUOS.
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