Capitalizing on the Military-to-Civilian Tech Innovation Cycle

Many products and technologies have carried over from military to civilian use over the years, finding their way into our everyday lives whether we realize it or not – from duct tape to the internet itself. While the military-to-civilian innovation cycle isn’t new, there are certain industries where it’s more likely to occur because the government and private sector have similar needs. One prime example of this is communications, because any user of end-point communications infrastructure, military or civilian, does so with a high expectation of reliability, interoperability, security, and capacity. At Comtech, we’re in a unique position to identify such crossover innovation cycles, and anticipate how they might influence the growth of our business.

A great example of this – which we recently discussed on Signals – is our Troposcatter Family of Systems. Historically, our troposcatter equipment has been deployed with the U.S. Department of Defense and our allies to establish communications in environments where it’s not possible, or desirable, to use radio, digital or satellite comms. This is particularly true in places where there is unpredictable weather, or topography like mountains and deep canyons that would interfere with line of sight.

It’s not hard to pinpoint other industries that also operate in challenging environments, including oil and gas, utility, marine and even rail transportation. Looking at oil and gas specifically, it’s critical for operators to consistently monitor their facilities and pipelines so they can quickly identify maintenance issues that might otherwise lead to environmental disasters. However, these pipeline networks are both usually large (for example, the Department of Transportation estimates that in the US alone there’s more than 2.6 million miles of pipelines delivering natural gas and liquid petroleum) and in places where traditional communications infrastructure does not – or cannot – exist. In this case, there is a clear opportunity to utilize troposcatter technology to create a highly-reliable communications infrastructure that sends and receives real-time data to maintain efficiency and safety. 

Comtech is already seeing the beginning of this adoption cycle, and in recent years we have secured troposcatter deals within the oil and gas industry. This includes the first commercial use of modern troposcatter technology in Europe for the Midia Gas Development Project in Romania to enable communication between a shore site and an unmanned platform. We have also inked a troposcatter contract with a major international oil and gas company to ensure contact with a floating facility. While this sector is still in the early stages as it relates to adopting and deploying troposcatter, over time, we see significant potential for growth.

In addition to troposcatter solutions, VSAT (very small aperture terminal) technology has great potential to scale beyond the military as well. VSAT networks are also used for establishing communications over far distances or in hard-to-reach locations independent of public infrastructure, but instead of using microwave radio signals like troposcatter, VSAT transmits and receives data, video and voice signals using satellites to connect with ground stations.

One could see how this technology would benefit government and defense applications, but VSAT has many commercial applications as well. For example, VSAT can: maintain point-of-sale connections for retail customers, provide uninterrupted remote learning experiences for people in rural areas or manage connections for banks and financial institutions conducting high volumes of trading activity. In fact, according to a recent study, the VSAT market is expected to grow at a 6.55% CAGR through 2031 to an estimated global market worth $8.45 billion. As the appetite for fast, dependable satellite communication in underserved areas grows and more organizations require greater connectivity for Internet of Things applications, we expect to see opportunities to expand our footprint in the VSAT market.

Innovation is born from necessity. We would argue this is true of the military, as innovation accelerates the development of technologies to satisfy their most pressing needs. But this also paves the way for these innovations to become mainstream. As other industries look for more sophisticated means to elevate their own communications infrastructures, Comtech already boasts the solutions and the track record to be the right partner.

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