Scintillation index is examined for annular optical beams in a strong atmospheric medium of a slant path. On-axis scintillations have small- and large-scale components and are formulated for the uplink/downlink of aerial vehicle-satellite laser communications. For this purpose, the unified Rytov method and the amplitude spatial filtering of the atmospheric spectrum are utilized. Performances given by the average bit error rate (BER) are investigated by employing the corresponding scintillation index, which is found by using intensity having gamma-gamma distribution. Strong atmospheric turbulence effects on the scintillation index and BER of the collimated annular optical beam having various thicknesses are reported for the up/down vertical links, and these are compared with the scintillations of the collimated Gaussian optical beams against propagation length, source size, and the zenith angle with the selected thickness. Utilizing the scintillations found, BER changes against average signal-to-noise ratio (SNR)are plotted for up/down vertical links. The scintillation index and BER in the downlink are found to be different than the scintillation index and BER in the uplink for strong atmospheric turbulence, mainly because the structure constant is a function of the altitude. Considering the location where the aerial vehicle and satellite are deployed as the reference points, annular beams are more advantageous than the Gaussian beams at up/down slant link lengths. The effect of the thickness of the annular beam is apparent for the uplink, where thin annular beams are more advantageous at small link lengths and thick annular beams are more advantageous at large link lengths. In the downlink, thin annular beams are more advantageous at all link lengths.
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