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AEHF communications satellite network activated

Advanced Extreme High Frequency AEHF satellite on orbit above Earth Lockheed Martin image posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

The Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF ) satellite network, built to serve the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands has been brought online. Three of the spacecraft, which are used to connect the participants’ armed forces, have already been sent to geostationary orbits with three more still to be launched. 

Representatives for the prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, working on the deployment of the AEHF fleet, have provided details regarding the capabilities of the new constellation of satellites.

“When a commander issues orders, they need to know their troops will get the information quickly and without fear of interruption or interception,” said Mark C. Calassa, vice president of Protected Communication Systems and AEHF program manager for Lockheed Martin. “Compared to anything else on orbit, AEHF gives an unmatched level of protection and has five times the speed of legacy protected communication systems. With AEHF reaching IOC, the system’s international partners can more quickly and safely command some of the world’s most capable militaries to address global instability as it arises.”

According to Lockheed Martin, the AEHF satellites will provide “protected communications from the Oval Office to the front lines.” In terms of the current mission status of AEHF, the spacecraft have entered into the “initial operational capability” phase. This stage means that the fleet is capable of providing users with routine communications services.

AEHF is designed to provide secure communications for members of the partners’ armed forces transmitting sensitive data in hostile regions of the world.

Protected communications diagram for Advanced Extreme High Frequency AEHF system satellite image credit Lockheed Martin posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Protected communications diagram for the AEHF system satellite. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

An array of civil and military communications satellites have already been sent to orbit; however, the AEHF fleet is described as being the only system presently on orbit that can protect “against the full spectrum of threats.”

Nuclear-hardened, AEHF is designed specifically to prevent jamming, eavesdropping, and cyberattacks. To help protect the system further, AEHF utilizes onboard signal processing and satellite-to-satellite crosslinks. Because this system does not require ground relay stations, it further decreases the likelihood that the information relayed can be compromised.

AEHF allows users to do more than just communicate with one another; for instance, data to include still imagery and videos can be transmitted through the network. Aircraft, ocean-going vessels, and land-based personnel can all access and use the information.

This new system is meant to replace the aging Milstar fleet that was launched between 1994 and 2003 atop Titan IV (401) A and B boosters.

Initial operational capability became open after the USAF had completed a six-month evaluation cycle. The AEHF fleet was put through its paces through simulated scenarios such as the ones it would encounter in the real world.

The third AEHF satellite was launched in September of 2013 atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 531 booster from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida. All of the spacecraft have utilized this version of the rocket.

“The biggest challenge to bringing the system online for global operation was executing on the day-to-day demands of building a complex, vital system like AEHF. No other satellite communications system is protected from multiple complex and simultaneous threats, which is why AEHF is tasked with delivering some of the world’s most sensitive communications. That importance is not lost on the Lockheed Martin program team, and we take our responsibility as the Air Force’s prime contractor for protected communications seriously,” said Mark Calassa, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for protected communication systems.

The three remaining spacecraft are currently under construction at Lockheed Martin’s facilities in Sunnyvale, California. According to Gunter’s Space Page, AEHF-4 is the next spacecraft in the fleet currently scheduled to launch sometime in 2017.

United Launch Alliance Atlas V 531 rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida with Advanced Extreme High Frequency AEHF 3 satellite photo credit Mike Howard SpaceFlight Insider

The last AEHF satellite, AEHF-3, lifted off in September of 2013 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida. Photo Credit: Mike Howard / SpaceFlight Insider



Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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