Tactical Communications For Land, Air & Sea.
Spectra Group (UK) Ltd a leading international solutions provider of secure voice, data and satellite communications for locations with limited or compromised infrastructure launched the SlingShot system in 2013 and will launch the Aviation version at DSEI this September.
SlingShot® is a small external appliqué for tactical military radios, used to convert them to commercial L-Band SATCOM, offering a straightforward and cost-effective way to achieve tactical, secure, low-latency voice and data regional communications. There are SlingShot systems for the man, land vehicle and maritime, with an aviation system to be made available later this year.
The requirement was to deliver the benefits of UHF TacSat at a greatly reduced cost and without the limitation that exists on the number of available channels. SlingShot delivers this by attaching a small and lightweight appliqué by coax to the radio’s antenna connection. The appliqué converts the radio frequency to L-Band SATCOM frequency for both voice and data.
Imagine a scenario whereby a non-combatant evacuations operation is needed, using troops from across the EU. An early entry force will be deployed by air and will mission plan whilst airborne and continue to co-ordinate once deployed. Concurrently, a naval detachment will take an offshore position and join the operational net to communicate with the early entry force.
Both teams will use tactical radios and, despite being thousands of kilometres apart, will require secure voice and data capability. On landing, ground troops using VHF radios, will move to the objective to begin the evacuation. During this phase they need to be connected to both the air and naval platforms using the same radios. In addition, the national HQ in the home base will be maintaining a listening watch. Following successful extraction, the non-combatants will be escorted to the waiting naval ship and the ground troops returned to the airhead for departure.
The challenge is how to maintain secure BLOS voice and data communications on tactical UHF & VHF radios throughout the operation. The SlingShot system is designed for precisely these challenges. With SlingShot enabled UHF or VHF radios in each node and the provision of a bespoke, multi-headed, satellite beam covering the whole area of interest, such interoperability becomes possible without the need for further re-equipping or training.
Already in deployment with several NATO countries, the SlingShot system can deliver secure BLOS comms over tactical, theatre and strategic distances, COTM at speeds in excess of 130 kph land and 40 knots at sea.
It also enables interoperability of any units in the network using the same crypto, or in a clear mode. Whether using UHF or VHF radios, units and agencies can coordinate over hundreds, if not thousands of kilometres.
The appliqué connects to a power supply, which is either a standard radio battery, a vehicle or transport 12/24V DC or AC, depending on which SlingShot system is in use. The power supply powers the appliqué and the omni-directional antenna: Under standard operational conditions, the manpack system, using a radio battery, will run for up to 24 hours on a single charge.
Each SlingShot appliqué has slightly different physical characteristics, depending on which frequency it is converting, which power supply it uses, or if it has additional cooling (manpack appliqué may be carried in a pouch or bag and therefore requires heat dissipation). Nevertheless, the weight only varies between 489 g and 605 g and the dimensions for the manpack appliqué are 170x75x30 mm for UHF and 204x75x30 mm for VHF.
The antennas that form the final part of the SlingShot system are all omni-directional, delivering not only BLOS comms but COTM too. This gives the system several advantages over traditional UHF TacSat. On foot, there is no need to stop and orientate towards the satellite and the system can be used prone, kneeling, at walk, jog and run. As long as there is sight of the satellite there will be service.
The vehicle antenna can be mounted with a magnetic plate or a pole and is small and unobtrusive, at 146×72 mm. It has been tested at speeds in excess of 80 mph (130 kph) withoutloss of voice or data communications. Similarly, the maritime antenna has been tested up to 40 knots with high-speed turns on fast military RHIBs.
SlingShot utilises Inmarsat’s L-TAC service. This service uniquely allows switching on the satellite, which means that the comms are effectively point to point, without any delay introduced by landing at a satellite ground station.
The nature of the coverage offered by L-TAC allows beams to be booked on a monthly basis and with the capability of having large, narrow beams, or more specific, multi-headed beams. Such fexibility greatly adds to the ability to move fast and respond to adapting situations. The I4 satellite constellation covers most of the globe, with the poles being the least covered. Inmarsat’s L-TAC service delivers dedicated bandwidth or, in other words, is not contended.
This guarantees quality of service and, combined with the SlingShot system, means that even on the edges of the beam, voice and data communication is not compromised. Recent tests proved this at 82 degrees latitude.
The SlingShot capability delivers a tactical command and control COTM system to complement UHF TacSat. Conceived and designed in direct response to military requirements, it already offers clear benefits to those engaged in high-tempo operations, which require reliable and robust COTM.
Currently deployed by several NATO countries, SlingShot is proving its value in operation. With an aviation system to come this year, to add to the man, vehicle and maritime systems, SlingShot is becoming an essential part of command and control communications, no matter where in the world.