According to a new analysis from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the US narrowband communications satellites of military are overloaded, with inadequate capacity to satisfy customers’ needs. The Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), which is a network of 5 geosynchronous satellites managed by the US Navy, is the report’s subject, which was issued on September 2. The satellite-centered data network and cellular voice for mobile forces were developed nearly two decades ago.
Even though the entire MUOS constellation has been in orbit for 4 years, the Department of Defense has not provided enough user phones and terminals that will take advantage of more modern Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA) payload. Most customers have older terminals that can only communicate with MUOS’s historical ultra-high frequency (UHF) payload. The GAO has previously criticized the Department of Defense on this subject, and this latest report indicates that the problems have not been resolved.
“The Department of Defense has been unable to take advantage of the system’s enhanced capabilities, such as a 10-fold boost in communications capacity. According to GAO, the military services’ delayed supply of appropriate radio terminals to consumers is one of the main reasons. In response to the GAO’s findings, the Department of Defense stated that it is financing and developing strategies to expedite the procurement and delivery of such terminals. The US Space Force recently took over the operation of the MUOS system from the Navy.
“User needs will continue to be unfulfilled until the Department of Defense considers alternative possibilities and takes actions to offer other near-term narrowband capabilities while transitioning to advanced MUOS capabilities,” the GAO concluded. The research also warns that the Department of Defense will confront a problem in selecting what comes after the current MUOS capacity in order to guarantee that the warfighter narrowband SATCOM requirements are satisfied before 2034 when the existing MUOS system is expected to decline.
Over the years, the GAO has chastised the Department of Defense for its disconnected administration of the MUOS program. The Navy was in charge of acquiring the ground systems and satellites. Still, the primary meant users were the Army and Marine Corps ground personnel, who were in charge of procuring their MUOS terminals.
Initially, the Navy and Army planned to deploy MUOS satellites and corresponding terminals simultaneously, but technical issues scuttled that plan. GAO reported that the Navy began developing MUOS in 2004 and had problems during operational testing. The Army began building mobile, software-defined radio terminals in the same year, some of which may be MUOS-compatible but also fell into development issues.
According to the GAO, the Pentagon should consider additional possibilities for delivering narrowband satellite communication capabilities in the near future. It was also suggested that the Department of Defense revise its prospective narrowband satellite communication demands so that the Space Force can begin designing a replacement program for MUOS.