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Pentagon officials have long pointed out the vast distances troops have to travel when working in Africa. It’s no small matter to move people around the various operating theaters, let alone connect them with permanent internet infrastructure. Warfighting today requires access to computing and storage devices capable of providing cloud infrastructure and platform services.
So the US military has been working to provide secure, nearly fiber-speed communications to its remote outposts across this continent. The U.S. Africa Command is spending nearly $25 million on this project. Last month, the command bought access to SES Government Solutions’ O3b satellite service — a network of medium-earth-orbit satellites that use 2.5-meter satellite dishes to provide fast connectivity.
It doesn’t necessarily reveal a huge change in America’s operations on the continent, but it is a sign there’s a large demand for connectivity and data out in the field, said Alice Hunt-Friend, a former director at the Pentagon. “Likely the big source of data demand for AFRICOM on the continent is ISR platforms, and this contract could indicate a growing number of platforms, missions, or both,” said Friend, now a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It’s also possible the contract is just shoring up gaps … but my guess is that between Somalia and the location in Niger, the data demand started to overwhelm current infrastructure.”
Africa Command has a “large mission of being able to work with the different coalition partners that are on the continent, as well as U.S. forces that are down there,” and that presents a challenge from an IT perspective, said Col. Michael Fazen, who runs the command’s IT service management.
According to defenseone.com, the implications of the contract are huge. Now, at say, the remote drone base in Niger or locations even more isolated, troops will have a faster, better way to securely connect to networks, transfer files and communicate.