The Vital role of Satellite Communication in KFOR | Article





CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo – US Army Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Johnson, a satellite communication systems operator-maintainer assigned to the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Virginia National Guard, repairs a satellite antenna at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, July 18, 2022. Johnson is currently the satellite communications noncommissioned officer for Kosovo Force’s Regional Command-East and helps facilitate communication throughout the region.
(Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Amouris Coss, 138th Public Affairs Detachment)

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As early as 2013, NATO forces have used satellite-based internet technology across the world, including campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, keeping units connected even in the most remote parts of the world.

Designated the Secure Internet Protocol Router/Non-secure Internet Protocol Router (SIPR/NIPR) Access Point satellite terminal, or SNAP, the specialized encrypted equipment allows Soldiers to connect up to five phones and 10 computers per SNAP to a network. This is especially important in Kosovo due to the mountainous terrain that often leaves dead zones that do not allow cellular service or other means of communication.

“When I first got to Kosovo, Camp Nothing Hill was primarily using the SNAP as their primary phone capabilities,” said Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Johnson, a satellite communication systems operator-maintainer assigned to KFOR’s Regional Command-East. “They have radios but there are limitations as far as distances go and how you can communicate with them. Anytime the commander decides we need to move forward with a mission and they need to have access to any number of other tools, whether it be email access, Cisco Jabber and messaging you have to have a terminal that can provide that and at least right now SATCOM is the only way to do that.”

In 2015, the US Army updated the SNAP to be lighter and easier to transport, making it a bridge between light and heavyweight satellite terminals. The SNAP’s new configuration makes it 64 percent lighter and easier to set up. The SNAP’s larger brother, the Satellite Transportable Terminal, requires an entire trailer to haul and is not commonly ideal for brigade-level deployments.

Once the SNAP is up and running, Soldiers can communicate via secure internet networks and Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, which allows for voice calls to be made through the internet. This enables troops to transfer mission essential correspondence effectively in any terrain. To accomplish this, the SNAP connects to a satellite that will beam a signal back down to a DoD network point and then return the signal with data for the end user to utilize.

“I think that the big difference between any other system that’s here is that with the SNAP you are able to set up internet access versus every other system that I know here doesn’t include data,” Johnson said. “You wouldn’t be able to reach out and touch the internet. It’s either something self-enclosed or it’s a radio.”

Satellite communication systems operator-maintainers can teach other soldiers how to troubleshoot any issues to keep the mission going. This is due to the SNAP’s modular panels being easily interchangeable once system users identify the problem.

“One thing I have enjoyed while being here is getting more time to work on the SNAP. It’s very accessible while the huge terminals in the past were almost impossible to get access to the rear compartments for repair, but the SNAP comes in seven cases and you assemble it essentially yourself aside from little sub-components and then when something goes wrong you can put your hands on it and fix it,” Johnson said.

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