The Army Warfighting Experiment (AWE 2017) conducted by UK forces on Salisbury Plain in March with US Army participation provided an opportunity for Airbus Defence and Space (formerly Astrium) to demonstrate an uprated version of its Xebra manportable satellite reachback service.
This is based on the HM300 X-band satellite terminal, produced for it in the United States as an exportable/non-ITAR item by terminal development partner Hughes Network Systems. It was initially unveiled by Airbus in November 2015 as a potential solution to the requirements of an (unspecified) element of the UK armed forces.
Described as the smallest manportable X-band terminal currently available, the HM300 weighs 5.1 kg and measures 247.9x236.9x84.3 mm, and is designed to use the UK Ministry of Defence's (MoD's) Skynet 5 X-band military and commercial satellite communications (satcom) network, which gives near-global coverage. Xebra is thereby able to provide tactical units with assured voice and broadband data services (up to 512 kbit/s) at the short halt.
Airbus notes X-band transmissions have a reduced probability of intercept, Xebra being operated "in the satellite noise" that makes it "difficult to geolocate", giving it a greater ability to resist "intentional or unintentional interference" than many alternatives.
According to the company, the terminal has been proven to extend the communication distance of Bowman UK/VRC-340 HCDR and Harris AN/PRC-117G MANET networks to global ranges "with guaranteed, non-pre-emptible data rates". Command-and-control data services "can also be provided to forward units beyond traditional combat net radio distances, while ISTAR products [typically from ground sensors or full-motion video] can be passed back for analysis".
Among evaluations to date, Airbus reports Xebra has been used by the Royal Marines 3 Commando Brigade to enhance Bowman (VHF UK/PRC355) and Harris PRC-117F voice and data (ComBAT for Bowman and High Power Waveform [HPW] for the PRC-117F) capabilities to develop littoral operations in line with the UK armed forces' emerging 'Strike' concept.
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