The Pentagon has seen the future of communications, and it is… inflatable.
It makes sense, if you think about it. Pentagon brass want the military of tomorrow to be nimble and easily deployed, which means its equipment must be as well. That’s why an alphabet soup of Pentagon offices, led by the U.S. Army Project Manager, chipped in for a five-year, $440 million contract to give the Army, Marine Corps and others an inflatable satellite antenna (ISA) currently available only to the badasses in Special Ops.
The big balloon is made by the Alabama company GATR. It’s got a flexible parabolic dish mounted within an inflatable sphere, an arrangement that cuts the weight and packaging volume by as much as 80 percent compared to rigid antennas. The system is designed for ground use and is particularly useful in remote areas where consistent, sustained communication can be a challenge.
GATR offers the rig in three diameters: 2.4, 1.8 and 1.2 meters. The company says the larger dish size enables more efficient use of satellite bandwidth capacity, which increases bandwidth for everyone on the system and lets more people communicate simultaneously. The system can be ready to, er, roll in 30 minutes. The largest antenna can be packed into as few as two cases and weighs less than 100 pounds, making it a whole lot easier than rigid rigs to schlep in the field. The smallest rig weighs just 70 pounds and can be packed into a backpack. The light weight is easier on troops, and on beancounters in Washington. Since it weighs less, it costs less to transport. It’s also cheaper than conventional SATCOM systems.