It’s Official, WGS 12 is on its way
Despite initial plans, the U.S Wideband Global Satcom constellation (WGS) is growing again. Last month, the 2023 defense bill added $442 million for a new, wideband, military communications satellite. While it seemed likely, though unconfirmed, that a new satellite addition was on its way, it is now finally official. The US Space Force is looking to purchase a 12th satellite to join the Wideband Global SATCOM constellation (WGS 12).
NSR’s Military Communications Satellite Tracker notes current Geo-political instability is increasing global interest in the benefits of sovereign MILSATCOM. Nation state networks are now positioned for growth.
The above map identifies nation states which currently have active MILSATCOM capabilities, those that have commented that they are in the planning/ in development stage and those where MILSATCOM capabilities are speculated to exist but unconfirmed.
With new MILSATCOM assets coming online, and more planned, increased WGS capacity supports the push for information dominance at a time when macroeconomic headwinds appear rapidly. As demonstrated in Ukraine, jamming concerns and cybersecurity needs are quickly moving up the priority list in satcom development. WGS 11+ and WGS 12 will offer significant enhancement in protection against jamming compared to older WGS satellites.
This comes during significant activity in global MILSATCOM development. The United Kingdom is progressing with upgrades to their new military communications Skynet, Australia’s award of JP9102 contract is forthcoming, and several other countries are working towards their own asset launches. COMSATCOM is similarly courting strong interest via both new and renewed contracts.
Interestingly, the Space Force did not request funding for WGS11+ or WGS 12. While focus is on ensuring U.S capabilities to support warfighters in an increasingly dynamic global playing field, this congressional play has potential benefits wider than just U.S Military Satcom needs.
Simultaneously, in the middle of a round of global tech restructuring, such as job losses recently announced by Boeing, on-going stability for the current resources dedicated to WGS production is likely a welcome sight for the US defense industrial base.
Access to these new assets also adds appeal for nation states debating joining the WGS partnership. Current international partners participating in the WGS program are Australia, Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, Netherlands, and New Zealand where proportional access is attributed via funding levels. Two new nations have been in discussion to join this coalition, however identities have not been disclosed. This offers the potential benefit of spreading financial loads as current funding does not include launch costs, an issue potentially answered through partnership negotiation.
The Bottom Line
While the opportunity for involved players is clear, another WGS is not a “cure all” for military Satcom needs. The MILSATCOM vs. COMSATCOM debate continues for a reason. While MILSATCOM is attractive with the benefits of sovereign use of an asset, the gains from access to the latest in commercial offerings is hard to ignore. Connectivity is not an “either/or” scenario. Instead, aiming for the best of both worlds may be the answer.