The Air Force took control of the fourth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite on May 3, marking a step forward in the service’s efforts to provide jam-resistant communications for the military.

The AEHF system replaces the Milstar constellation to offer highly protected communication for high priority military assets and national leaders. AEHF also serves the United States’ international partners of Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

The Air Force’s 4th Space Operations Squadron officially took control of the satellite during a brief ceremony on May 3 at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado. The ceremony comes just days after the Air Force and Lockheed Martin successfully completed on-orbit testing of the satellite, which launched in October.

The new satellite increases the service’s capability and brings the program one step closer to its goal of six geosynchronous satellites in orbit. According to Lockheed Martin, the program’s prime contractor, one AEHF satellite provides more capacity than the entire Milstar constellation, allowing the military to transmit real-time video, battlefield maps and targeting data.

In a statement, Mike Cacheiro, Lockheed Martin Space’s vice president of protected communications, the fourth satellite arrived in its on-orbit position one month early.

The fifth AEHF satellite isn’t far behind. Lockheed Martin announced May 9 it had shipped the fifth satellite in the series to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station ahead of its expected launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket in June.

“We are thrilled to return to the Cape to launch AEHF-5 less than a year after launching AEHF-4, showing an accelerated pace to support the Air Force Space and Missiles Systems Center,” Cacheiro said. “The AEHF system is essentially a high capacity data network in the sky, and this is a complete paradigm shift for the future of protected communications.”

Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.

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