The Arctic region is warming up at twice the pace of the rest of the Earth, opening up sea lanes during the summer that were previously inaccessible, according to a Navy report.
Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, said in the U.S. Navy Arctic Roadmap: 2014-2030, released in February, that the service "recognizes that the opening of the Arctic Ocean has important national security implications as well as significant impacts on the U.S. Navy's required future capabilities."
The Navy and its partner the Coast Guard will find themselves operating more frequently in the region. That will require "a better communications architecture," the roadmap said.
The Navy is responsible for providing maritime domain awareness including up-to-date maps and weather forecasts to the rest of the armed forces. Primary search-and-rescue responsibility lies with the Coast Guard, with the Navy assisting.
All this will require moving data over a communications backbone in the Arctic Ocean, which covers about 5.4 million square miles.
In the near term, the sea services will have two new satellite communication systems to rely upon: The Navy's Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) and Iridium, a commercial satellite communications provider, which is set to launch its next-generation fleet of spacecraft in 2015.
MUOS, which now has two of a planned five-satellite system in orbit, was not required to provide communication links farther than 65 degrees north, explained Paul Scearce, director of military space advanced programs at MUOS' builder, Lockheed Martin.
Back when the satellites were being conceived some 14 years ago, communicating in the Arctic simply wasn't a pressing issue, he said in an interview. The legacy satellites that MUOS is replacing, the UHF Follow-On, had spotty connectivity in latitudes higher than 65 degrees north. Sometimes users could receive signals as far as 72 degrees north, but they were weak and inconsistent, he said.
UHF Follow-On and MUOS satellites are in geosynchronous orbits above the equator, meaning their beams cover most of the Earth, but fade in polar regions.
"Historically, that beam pattern isn't very usable very far into the Arctic," Scearce said. "Polar coverage was always a desire, but there was no real drive to make the system go above 65 degrees."
The MUOS satellites have more beams, more power, a waveform based on 3G wideband spread spectrum and therefore more capability to bend around the curvature of the...