New satellite improves communications in Afghanistan

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

UK troops in Afghanistan have begun operating a satellite secured from NATO at no extra cost to the MOD which is providing extra communications channels for commanders on the front line.

The NATO satellite will be used to provide two extra Ultra High Frequency (UHF) tactical communications channels that can be used in Afghanistan. This additional satellite adds to the MOD’s three existing Skynet 5 series satellites which provide a worldwide satellite communications service.

Satellite technology gives commanders on the ground an efficient and secure means of communication, including with operations centres that co-ordinate vital air support, as well as with other units.

Flight Lieutenant Damien Handley is a Joint Tactical Air Controller in Afghanistan. He uses satellite communications on the front line in his role co-ordinating air support for ground troops. He said:

I can use these satellite communications to talk from Afghanistan directly to operations centres and headquarters around the world. They are vital in the fight against insurgents, particularly to task aircraft in support of our front line troops. In the thick of battle we rely on good communications and more satellite channels will be a great boost.

Following an agreement with NATO, the MOD’s Defence Equipment and Support organisation secured ownership of the satellite earlier this year at no extra cost to the MOD. Control of the satellite and running of the two UHF channels has been incorporated into the MOD’s Skynet 5 Private Finance Initiative contract and is managed by communications company Paradigm.

Commander Andy Titcomb, from the MOD’s Defence Equipment and Support organisation, explained:

Ultra High Frequency satellite communications are a valuable resource and when it became known that NATO was about to fire this satellite into a graveyard orbit, we jumped at the chance to see whether we could take ownership of this valuable asset and use it to support our troops in Afghanistan.

He concluded:

This is an example of MOD personnel identifying and seizing an opportunity to deliver an additional vital resource to our troops on the ground at zero capital cost.