How the Finnish Defence force Uses Satellite Communications
Norsat has provided satellite communication equipment and services for the Finnish Defence Forces since 2009. Before Norsat’s involvement, the Defence Forces were using an external network provider and needed a more reliable solution. Norsat met this need with an in house communication network, which was scaled from an initial small network to a large communications hub. The network now provides a cost-effective, high speed direct connection from Finland to the Finnish Army, Navy and Air Force troops anywhere in the world.
The Finnish Defence Forces (FDF), comprised of the Army, Navy and Air Force, are responsible for defending national territory, supporting other national authorities in safeguarding society, and leading and implementing international crisis management operations. More than 15 000 soldiers and civilians in the Forces are involved in deployments that include European Union and United Nations peacekeeping missions around the world. The FDF have a critical need to communicate with their deployed troops in the challenging environments in which they operate, ranging from winter temperatures of -40° C to desert highs of +50° C.
Prior to Norsat’s involvement, the FDF were using a third party hub located outside of Finland to communicate with deployed units. The primary problem posed by this system was the lack of reliability in the terrestrial connection between the satellite hub and the Finnish military network. Additionally, the network was under third party control, and the FDF were forced to rely on their provider to resolve all technical issues, regardless of magnitude.
The FDF needed a more robust communication solution that would connect their troops in extreme environments. They wanted to move away from an external communications provider and bring their network in house to ensure reliable service, strong security, and quality support. The ideal solution needed to be scalable, so that it could be implemented in stages to validate the chosen technology, and spread capital expenditures over time. Maintaining or reducing operational expenses was also a firm requirement.
Norsat began working with the Finnish Defence Forces in 2009, during a European Union peacekeeping mission in Chad. The army required a single C-Band satellite communications
link and Norsat met their needs with a 2.4 meter transportable satellite terminal for use in Chad, and a 3.8m hub antenna located in Finland. The Norsat network enabled a reliable, direct communications link from Chad to Finland, and a second 1.8 meter remote terminal was provided shortly thereafter.
Following the success of the network used in Chad, the
FDF requested that Norsat assist them in expanding their communication network to support an on-going mission in Afghanistan. This mission required the use of a different satellite, operating on Ku-Band, and the FDF were looking to use a more reliable network which would remain under their own control,
and enable shorter reaction times. To meet this need, Norsat proposed a complete turnkey solution, including upgrading the existing system to manage bandwidth via Comtech’s Vipersat Management System, and expanding the network to a second satellite. Norsat also upgraded the existing remote terminals to be dual-band (C and Ku) capable.
After consultation with the FDF and design of the network, Norsat provided a second 3.8 meter satellite terminal hub with Ku-band capabilities to support the new satellite, and sent a customer support team onsite to install and configure the hub equipment on base in Finland. The team ensured the new hub equipment was installed and functioning correctly and provided on-site training for technicians so that they could configure and operate the system, including the new Vipersat Management System, independently. Norsat also provided additional portable ground terminals, equipped with dual C and Ku band connectivity, enabling easy switching between frequency bands in the field.
As the FDF became more and more experienced with this system, Norsat proposed a number of upgrades to the hub equipment to provide for full redundancy. After planning and testing with two hub antennas, the FDF deployed a third 3.8m hub antenna, as well as fully redundant transmit and receive systems for each of the existing hub antennas, all necessary for mission-critical operation.
The success of this network led the FDF to investigate the expansion of this solution for use in their Air Force and Navy. In March 2012, the first ship was integrated into the existing satellite network. To achieve this, Norsat provided the necessary equipment to upgrade the ship’s communications systems, and provided an on-site technician to ensure proper installation. After the success of the field trial on the first ship, the Finnish Navy selected Norsat to provide the equipment required to integrate an additional four ships into the satellite network. The Air Force has also come to rely on the system, bringing a transportable antenna as part of their command element when participating in exercises and EU obligations.
In addition to equipment supply, installation and network design , Norsat provided front line technical support including consultation on integrating the new network with within the existing infrastructure, customization of fit for purpose terminals, 24/7/365 telephone support, a dedicated customer service team, and second line network management services. Norsat’s support engineers were frequently on site in Finland to ensure the availability of the communication network and to train the FDF on the ongoing operation and maintenance of the system.
Norsat’s communication network has improved the reliability of communications for the Finnish Defence Forces and now enables Army, Navy and Air Force to communicate from anywhere in the world, including deployments in Afghanistan, Chad, Djibouti and Lebanon. This solution puts the FDF in full control of their communications systems, and improves network security by keeping their network in-house.
The network was scaled from the original single communication link for the Army to a fully redundant satellite teleport that now supports the entirety of the FDF. The scalability of this network enabled the FDF to assess the suitability of the solution before agreeing to expansion, and facilitated the management of capital expenditures. The network currently stabilizes their operating costs, and as it is expanded into the Navy and Air Force, it will begin to reduce operating costs as expensive pay-per use external satellite communication services are replaced by the fixed cost internal network.
The choice of the Vipersat Management System has been very beneficial to the FDF. The technology provides flexibility for operating the remotes, including on-demand bandwidth allocation and mesh connectivity between remotes, and it greatly reduces the requirements on the field operators. Additionally, the dynamic single channel per carrier (SCPC) nature of Vipersat provides for significantly better quality of service (QoS) capabilities, and allows remotes with radically different capabilities to participate in the same network. This enables naval vessels with 1m antennas and 8 watt transmitters to participate in the same network as 2.4m antennas with 40 watt BUCs.
The hub redundancy is also crucially important to the success of the network. Should any major component fail in operation, the system is capable of automatically falling over to a spare unit. This is a critical feature as it allows the hub to operate unmanned for significant periods of time.
This communication solution provides a breakthrough for the Navy, as it enables access to shore-based resources that were previously unavailable while at sea. For the first time, the Navy now has full access to the military network while at sea, including access to secure documents and emails, which will facilitate improvements in productivity and reductions in response times. It also represents a significant cost reduction, as the Navy no longer has to rely on traditional global maritime communications providers for their day to day communications
In the field, Norsat’s rugged, portable satellite terminals consistently provide communication links in the extreme environmental conditions of desert deployments, wet conditions and cold Northern winters. Norsat’s easy to use “LinkControl” interface has enabled FDF technicians to successfully operate in the field with minimal training and expertise. Additionally, the portable terminals can be quickly set up without tools, an essential requirement for the FDF troops who often use the terminals in extremely cold conditions where gloves are necessary.
The dual band functionality of the terminals also enables the army to switch bands easily in the field and make communications decisions on a mission to mission basis.
Regarding Norsat’s involvement in the satellite communications network, the FDF Head of Army CIS Integration Office, Captain Juha Pekka Leppänen stated,
“The team has been helpful, flexible and effective in helping us to meet the demanding equipment criteria of Crisis Management Operations. Most of all, we have been pleased with the technical support and training, which has enabled us to produce reliable communications around the world, with minimum interference. We look forward to continuing our personal and supportive co-operation in the future.”