When it comes to transmitting sensitive information in highly contested areas, the Advanced Extremely High Frequency system and Milstar satellites are proving their value, achieving 100 years of combined successful operations.
Designed as a protected, global network, the first Milstar launched in 1994 aboard a Titan IV rocket. Since then, the constellation has served as a critical resource for troops and national leaders in delivering secure and reliable communications. In 2010, the first AEHF launched as the follow-on to Milstar, providing expansive coverage and five times faster connections.
The Military Satellite Communications Directorate at the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center leads the team, with Lockheed Martin as the prime contractor and Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems as the payload provider.
“Protected communications means more than encryption and authentication—these systems must be the communications channel that stands when all others fail,” said Iris Bombelyn, vice president of Lockheed Martin’s Protected Communications mission area. “This is an important milestone in our support of that mission, and we continue to remain focused on anticipating changing needs and innovating new capabilities long into the future.”
The nuclear-hardened communications satellites are resistant to high-tech jammers, eavesdropping and cyberattack. The system is also designed to insulate communications from vulnerability by eliminating the need for ground relay stations. Instead, the system uses on-board signal processing and radio frequency crosslinks, allowing communication between on-orbit satellites.
“We are proud to provide this most crucial communications capability for our nation’s leadership and warfighters,” said Tim Frei, vice president of Communications Systems at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. “We are committed to advancing this capability into the future to stay ahead of the evolving threats.”
In July 2015, the AEHF system achieved initial operational capability and is being operated by the U.S. Air Force’s 4th Space Operations Squadron. The next AEHF satellite, AEHF-4, is scheduled to launch in 2017. AEHF-5 and 6 are in production at Lockheed Martin in Sunnyvale, California, before they undergo final assembly, integration and test operations prior to launch.