NEWTOWN, Conn. --- Hoping to avoid a scene out of the Cold War novel Ice Station Zebra, the U.S. DoD has gone through a great deal of effort pumping money and technology into its Polar MILSATCOM program - specifically, the Enhanced Polar System (EPS) - because the DoD considers around-the-clock protected communications in the Arctic north to be a vital necessity.
The need for this capability became even more acute after the MILSATCOM program was restructured in 1992. Under the restructuring, the two polar satellites that were originally planned were dropped. Afterward, production of the interim payloads to cover the gap created by the MILSATCOM restructuring was delayed. However, now that those satellites have been built, attention has turned to the Enhanced Polar System program.
The DoD could deploy the two already-built EHF payloads as part of the EPS program in support of the Pentagon's interest in maintaining a communications capability in the north polar region.
The EPS effort continues battling a tight budget and technological delays. Working in the program's favor is the growing trend in the satellite industry of hosting payloads such as EPS on other satellite platforms, which has proven to be much cheaper than building dedicated satellites sole for EPS. Launch of the first classified EPS payload is believed to have taken place in 2017 with launch of the second by the end of 2018. Full Operational Capability of the EPS is expected in 2019.
Given the importance of this communications system, the DoD is already working on the next-generation replacement for EPS (before it is even up and running), known as the Midterm Polar MILSATCOM, to avoid any gaps in coverage.