• Military use of civilian space networks is on the way
  • L3Harris was given a $17.9 million contract
  • Northrop Gruman was given a $9.9 million contract
  • SpaceX to test Starlink

The Air Force announced on Dec. 6 that it awarded L-3 Harris and Northrop Grumman both contracts to start developing technology that would allow communications between military aircraft and civilian satellites. The goal of this new arrangement is to integrate commercial space internet services onto military aircraft.

According to a report by SpaceNews, L3Harris was given a $17.9 million contract, while Northrop Grumman was given a $9.9 million deal. The duration of each of these contracts is three years, and they are just the latest in a string of contracts that have been released under the Defense Experimentation Using Commercial Space Internet or DEUCSI.

The experimental program is being led by the Air Force strategic development planning and experimentation office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

The goal of the program is to primarily develop a technology that will allow airplanes to communicate via satellites. The military is looking if it could cost-effectively purchase these services long-term. L3Harris, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin have all been assigned to individual contracts to help solve integration issues associated with bringing commercial networks in the military equipment.

The Northrop Grumman logo seen on its X-47B drone.
The landing gear on a mock-up of a Northrop Grumman X-47B long-range, high-endurance unmanned aircraft is seen during the Naval Aviation Centennial event at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, Feb. 11, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Blake

This would be an unprecedented success if it can be pulled off since the military tends to use their equipment when communicating with each other. However, it requires lawn to develop and launch their satellites and in this case, they can save the money and figure out how to connect the military aircraft to civilian networks.

SpaceX is in the mix as they have a contract that wasn't discussed in the reports, but the Airforce does confirm in the coming months there are plans to install Starlink in an AC-130 Gunship aircraft and a KC-135 aerial refueling tankers. Success in this endeavor may lead to cost-effective solutions and provide advances in technology for both the military and civilian worlds.