U.S. Marine Corps Updating Its Tactical SATCOM System

The U.S. Marine Corps Systems Command (MSCS) is updating its tactical satellite communication (SATCOM) system that provides increased communication capability on the battlefield.

The Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) is a next-generation, narrowband SATCOM capability that enables Marines to connect to SATCOM networks.

The system encompasses updated firmware to the AN/PRC-117G radio system and one of three antenna kits that help users simultaneously access these networks. Initially fielded in March 2019, the system enables mobile or stationary Marines to leverage cellular technology to increase access to voice and data communication. It also improves overall reliability in urban environments.

AN/PRC-117G radio
File photo of U.S. Marines operate an AN/PRC-117G radio aboard amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5). (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Autmn Bobby)

The Marine Corps said in a statement that the the upgraded technology is performing beyond expectations based on field user evaluations.

“MUOS gives us a 3G capability using satellite constellations,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Decker, MCSC’s Ground Radios product manager. “It is similar to a cell phone capability in the sky that covers the entire globe.”

The 3G networks used with MUOS remain far superior to the Marine Corps’ legacy SATCOM channels, said Decker. He noted that the Ground Radios program office continues to monitor the latest technologies and looks toward working with other services for future incremental improvements to the capability.

“We’re looking to support the warfighter with a lethal and sustainable capability, which is the command’s focus,” said Decker. “The more robust and resilient the capability, the more we can start adding on back-end systems to help Marines. MUOS is changing the way we look at a tactical satellite architecture.”

MCSC conducted various field user evaluations with I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) at Twentynine Palms, California, from March to May 2020 to assess an updated version of MUOS that increases network stability while executing missions.

During the testing, Marines participated in fire support simulation exercises where they employed MUOS for coordinated air strikes and mortar support. They also used the technology during scenario-based exercises that involved rehearsing command and control operations.

The program office is expected to begin fielding the updated version of MUOS this summer.

Mobile User Objective System (MUOS)

The Mobile User Objective Systems (MUOS) is the U.S. Defense Department’s next-generation narrowband military satellite communications (SATCOM) system replacing the legacy UHF Follow-On (UFO) system.

Mobile User Objective System (MUOS)
Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellite system of the U.S. Navy.

The system will support a worldwide, multiservice population of Ultra High Frequency (UHF) (300 MHz to 3 GHz frequency range) band users, providing increased communications capabilities to smaller terminals while still supporting interoperability with legacy terminals. It is designed to support users that require mobility, high data rates and improved operational availability, and will provide greater than 10 times the system capacity of the current UHF constellation.

The MUOS network is sustained by an initial configuration of four orbiting satellites (MUOS 1-4), built by Lockheed Martin, and four relay ground stations, built by General Dynamics Mission Systems. An on-orbit spare, MUOS-5, will ensure the network is always available to support the U.S. and allied mobile forces, as well as actively supporting the legacy UHF system. Each MUOS satellite includes a legacy UHF payload, in addition to the new MUOS payload.

The four ground stations, each of which serves one of the four active satellites of the MUOS constellation will be located at: the Australian Defence Satellite Communications Station at Kojarena about 30 km east of Geraldton, Western Australia; Naval Radio Transmitter Facility (NRTF) Niscemi about 60 km from Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily, Italy; Naval SATCOM Facility, Northwest Chesapeake, Southeast Virginia; and the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Pacific, Hawaii.

MUOS Satellite System
MUOS Satellite System. General Dynamics Mission Systems Graphic.

Last year, the MUOS system completed a critical test and evaluation phase and was assessed as operationally effective, operationally suitable and cyber survivable.

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