Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) are probably—if not the most crucial foundation for all military operations. It provides the decision-makers and action-takers with well-informed situation awareness, especially on tightly secured enemy grounds, airspace, and water territories, allowing them to collect, analyze, and develop well-formed strategies.

But, as you all know, technology keeps on advancing, and along with it are other capable nations such as Russia and China who can keep up on upgrading their weapons and equipment. And while unmanned overhead drones for surveillance remain significantly effective on today’s battlefield, there’s a big possibility that this won’t be enough for future armed conflicts.

This is why the US Army is collaborating with SpaceLink to further enhance its data-relaying capabilities that would benefit troops on the ground.

Five-year Cooperative R&D Agreement

SpaceLink has signed a five-year contract with the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command Technical Center to explore ways to expand the capability of troops in the field to easily or quickly obtain data information.

Under the Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), “SpaceLink will be sharing proprietary information about its system and in exchange will get insight into the Army’s concepts of operations and specific needs,” SpaceNews reported.

The US Army hopes to address this “long-standing” issue of quick access to commercial satellite imagery and allow the public and allied countries to access essential images classified on national security satellites.

This restriction may have an impact on critical operations. For example, suppose a battlefield commander needs to locate a moving enemy armored vehicle on the ground but cannot do so because transmission takes hours or even days.

Patrol Squadron (VP) 9 during an intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) mission
A photo of a naval aircrewman operator at a mission control workstation during an ISR mission, September 30, 2021. (Image source: US Navy/DVIDS)

Not to mention the technological advances of other countries that could quickly shoot down reconnaissance drones when spotted.

“For that reason, all the services are looking at space as vital to their needs,” James Schwenke told reporters. “How can we get into these denied areas? So that’s the reason for a CRADA. To figure out how we can support their needs and how they’re going to execute it.”

In a separate article, SpaceLink CEO, Dave Bettinger, noted that the collaboration would help the company align its strategies and projects with the Army’s mission. Further, this venture will benefit the military and commercial sectors by “sharing facilities, intellectual property, and expertise.”

Aside from SpaceLink, the US Army entered CRADAs with Capella Space in October and ICEYE in November last year, offering satellite operators.

Installing MEOs

SpaceLink, a US-based subsidiary of Australia’s Electro Optic Systems Holdings, announced earlier this year its plans to start deploying a satellite relay network of four satellites about 8,700 miles above Earth by 2024.

It aims to improve the capability of its constellation services by adding a medium Earth orbit (MEO), which allows users to transmit and access data securely via the Internet, private cloud, or other reliable delivery methods. This will provide a “constant line-of-sight to satellites” between lower and higher orbits and high-altitude airborne platforms. These new relay satellites will be equipped with optical and radio-frequency communication links.

According to Anthony Colucci, SpaceLink’s chief strategy and commercial officer, the plan is to use models and simulations to show the Army how government systems connect to the relay network.

He went on to say that an MEO network would speed up data flow to users.

The Military’s Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Problem

Read Next: The Military’s Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Problem

“Currently, communicating with LEO satellites is only possible when they are over a ground station. We can see all of the LEOs at all times, so we can communicate instantly,” Colucci said.

Importance of Satellite Imagery in Modern War

Satellite imagery information has been further proven to be significant days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

A week prior to the aggressors’ “special military operation” into the latter neighboring country, a private US company captured unusual military activity at several locations near the Ukrainian border. After releasing it, fears that Moscow might be planning to launch an attack escalated.

The Russian Federation has been making headlines for weeks, and despite repeatedly denying allegations regarding plans to invade the ex-Soviet nation, the West has kept a close eye on them.

One of the companies that kept track of the Russian military activities was the US-based company, Maxar Technologies, which has taken on suspicious activities in Belarus, the annexed Crimea, and western Russia.

A satellite image shows an overview of helicopter deployments near Lake Donuzlav, Crimea, on February 13, 2022. (Image source: Maxar Technologies/Handout via Reuters)

In the images, Maxar pointed out “the arrival of several large deployments of troops and attack helicopters as well as new deployments of ground attack aircraft and fighter-bomber jets to forward locations,” Reuters reported a week before the invasion occurred.