Because WGS had not been fielded as the Air Force rushed Predator and Reaper UAS into service at the beginning of the 2000s, engineers were forced to equip them with commercial Ku-band terminals. Air Force officials hope to shift them over to using Ka-terminals that can operate with WGS, according to Chris Pehrson, director of strategic business development for General Atomics, which manufactures the UAS systems. Air Force officials confirm this and also note a possible plan to enlarge the wings of the UAS and make them more robust in bad weather, though they say this could be cost-prohibitive in the current tight budget environment.
Likewise, the Air Force is testing the use of Ka-band terminals on its fleet of heavy aircraft—such as transports and aerial refuelers—this summer, says Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein, director of operations for Air Force Space Command.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon is also exploring ways to reshape its protected, secure constellation. Though the first two Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellites made by Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman are up, they will not provide service until early next year. The legacy Milstar system is still enabling all of the nuclear-hardened, secure communications now.
The Pentagon has plans to buy six AEHF satellites, so the next opportunity to introduce a new concept is likely in the fiscal 2016 or 2017 budget plan; the former will be assembled next summer. Air Force officials are looking at the use of a “disaggregated” architecture that splits off some of the tactical, protected missions onto their own satellite. This would allow for the construction of smaller, ostensibly cheaper, satellites capable of providing secure communications on the move without the cost associated with the nuclear-hardened mission for providing communications between the president and bomber and submarine forces in the event of an attack.