L3Harris, Northrop Grumman Win USAF Funds for Commercial Internet Project

Two companies on Dec. 6 received contracts to participate in the next steps of the Air Force’s “Global Lightning” experiment, which is trying to give military planes access to commercial wireless Internet in flight.

L3Harris won a nearly $18 million contract under the effort, formally known as “Defense Experimentation Using Commercial Space Internet,” according to the Defense Department. That funding will be used to connect Air Force assets to multiple constellations of commercial Internet satellites using terminals that can talk to both consumer and military technologies. Work is slated to run through Aug. 31, 2022.

Northrop Grumman also received almost $10 million to do the same work by November 2021. 

Air Force Magazine reported earlier this year that the Global Lightning project would expand to the AC-130 and KC-135. Pulling connectivity from commercial satellites can give airmen faster access to video, weather, and other data in flight.

“It’s the difference between getting low data-rate text messages and high-[definition], full-motion video,” Greg Spanjers, chief scientist at the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation office, told reporters Nov. 5. “Your high-def TV at home is probably about 5 megabits per second data rate. That’s a data rate well above most of the Air Force platforms that we’re dealing with.”

Other companies like SpaceX and Iridium are also participating in Global Lightning.