Podcast: Five Eyes Connectivity - SATCOM
Welcome to Shephard Studio’s special series on Five Eyes Connectivity, sponsored by our partner Viasat.
In the Five Eyes Connectivity podcast special, we look at the changing face of modern warfare across the land, sea and air domains through the prism of three key technology areas: Satellite communications, line of sight data links and cybersecurity.
In this episode, we focus on space and satellite communications and speak to military leaders about their SATCOM requirements and programmes.
As a result of the upsurge in the electronic warfare threat, Five Eyes military services are now considering the use of different applications and technologies to avoid disruption to SATCOM. Options include a greater reliance on commercial SATCOM providers to hide in the noise of greater amounts of radio traffic.
There is increased use of advanced extremely high-frequency satellite systems, aimed at providing survivable anti-jam and low probability of intercept or detection SATCOM connectivity. There are also developments in on-the-move antennas to avoid interference and detection by enemy forces, as well as supporting more discreet operations.
And we will hear from our sponsor, Viasat, about how the private sector is stepping in to help militaries develop these technology areas further.
Find Part 2 in our series here
And Part 3 here
To access bonus content, including more detailed interviews with the Canadian armed forces about how it is enhancing its information sharing, click here
The podcast series features music and effects by: Bobby Cole; Neil Cross; Romolo Komars Diprisco; Jason Donnelly; Michael Genato and Mark Merlino; Ceiri Torjussen
A transcript of this episode is below:
On a warm English morning in July, air force chiefs from around the world gathered in a London conference centre to discuss, deliberate, and debate the new realities of warfare. The occasion: The Air and Space Power Conference, which is held every year in the UK, giving senior government and military leaders the chance to discuss the strategic challenges currently facing the armed forces.
But this year, the nature of the discussions was markedly different. Conversations that would normally have been talk of the latest generation of fighter aircraft or air to air missile were instead dominated by those underlying technologies that enable modern military operations. Technologies such as satellite communications, tactical data links, line of sight communications networks, and cybersecurity capabilities.
So, what was the reason for this shift in focus? As our militaries become ever more reliant on digital technologies to gather and share information, potential adversaries are becoming more adept at disrupting and even denying access to those military networks. In the words of one senior commander: ‘While the nature of war remains constant, the character of war is changing.’
Here's Penny Mordaunt – who at the time was the UK secretary of state for defence, but was to lose her job the week after the conference – highlighting the importance of satellite assets at the event.
Mordaunt: ‘When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first set foot on the moon some 50 years ago, operations in space seemed otherworldly. Yet today, our armed forces depend upon space to provide them with global communications, critical intelligence, surveillance, and navigation tools. While satellites underpin our national banking, transport and communication networks, our competitors are doing all they can to disrupt access to these services. China has tested hit to kill intercepting missiles, increasing deadly debris and threatening every sovereign space enterprise. Russia is conducting sophisticated orbital activities, developing missile interceptors to threaten satellite and electronic warfare systems to jam satellite signals. Non-state hackers and cyber hackers have the potential to scramble satellite data and manipulate earth observation data to gain advantage.’
Welcome to Shephard Studio’s special series on Five Eyes Connectivity, sponsored by our partner Viasat. Over the next three episodes, we will look at the changing face of modern warfare across the land, sea and air domains through the prism of three key technology areas: Satellite communications, line of sight data links and cybersecurity.
We will hear from senior military leaders about the changing nature of today's threats, how unfettered access across the electromagnetic spectrum can no longer be taken for granted. We will find out about the vulnerabilities facing these critical technology areas, look at the work going on to protect military networks and hear how the private sector is stepping in to help.
In particular, we will look at the Five Eyes grouping of countries: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US and find out how prepared their militaries are when the connectivity they have become accustomed to is degraded or denied. We will hear from our sponsor, Viasat, about how the private sector is stepping in to help militaries develop these technology areas further.
But first, back to the air and space power conference in London to further set the scene. The events focus on multi-domain operations, which we will dive into in more detail later. Invited delegates come together to consider how the West would fare in any future conflict with Russia or China. Norway is among a number of NATO member states, as well as partner nations such as Ukraine that continue to have communications networks hampered by the ongoing information warfare being employed by the Russian Armed Forces.
So, for Major General Tonje Skinnarland, chief of the Royal Norwegian Air Force, the potential threat posed by Russia was very close to home.
Maj. Gen. Skinnarland: ‘Russia demonstrated their own military capability by deploying surface missiles and controlled aircraft. Announcing an intent to do live firing training in the middle of our exercise area. They conducted numerous strategic long aviation missions. All of them seamlessly intercepted and shadowed by NATO QRA from several countries. From the US carrier groups, organic air policing capability. It was a seamless co-operation that was very successful. In addition, there was repeated instances of jamming, costing lots of DS signals, which affect the civilian air traffic in the Northern part of Norway. We have also experienced an increase in influence operations and incidence in the cyber domain targeted against Norwegian authorities and commercial companies in a number of different sectors. To sum it up, Russia have the ability and will to conduct multi-domain power projection in times of peace, conflict, and war. In Norway, we see this as normal which requires increased military persons readiness and war intel-driven dynamic operations for the new Norwegian joint force. We have to adapt our defence planning accordingly.’
As the Western military is planned for future conflict against a peer competitor, strategic shorthand in this case for China and Russia, commanders emphasise the need for fully networked forces, operating on a mesh network that is both highly resilient and self-healing. Here's General David Goldfein, chief of staff of the United States Air Force.
Gen. Goldfein: ‘We're seeing the international order and threats change, while we still need to maintain campaign momentum against violent extremist organizations. The world is shifting towards new actors and more complex threats. As we heard yesterday, state competition has returned and it is taking on non-traditional forms such as malign influence and the information environment, like little green men acting as proxies. Second, within this complexity, the future of our economic information and security interests are becoming increasingly intertwined. Third, we're all wrestling with the accelerating advance of technology, a fact that introduces both new challenges and new opportunities. So, as the State Secretary even mentioned, we're all investing in a wide array of technologies, which will play key roles in how we advance our combat lethality. But modernisation is not defined solely by hardware, it requires changes in the way we organise, train, develop and then employ forces. Victory and future combat will depend less on individual capabilities and more on our integrating strengths as a connected network available for coalition leaders to employ. An integrated and a collaborative approach is central to unleashing the potential of multi-domain operations.’
So, what exactly do we mean by multi-domain operations? In short, the concept defines how harnessing capabilities across all domains is key to gain decisive advantage, whether that is a military service acting independently or in a joint allied or coalition context. But as the concept gains traction, this increased emphasis on multi-domain military operations has a myriad of technological implications. Ken Peterman is president of government systems at Viasat, which is sponsoring this podcast. As he explains: The renewed focus on multi-domain operations is a recognition that there's a paradigm shift being experienced in information warfare, space, and communications.
Peterman: 'We're seeing multiple paradigm shifts across this market sector and across this technology sector. Network-centric warfare was fundamentally a recognition that connectivity and communications capability that's assured and secure, is a fundamental enabler for war-fighter situation awareness and war-fighter communications. Effective command and control, effective battle management, effective use of resources: it was a huge enabler in war-fighter mission effectiveness and improvements in war-fighter safety. Communications are the underlying fabric of the infrastructure, which enables applications like situational awareness, command and control, and communications, blue force tracking to know where your friendly forces are and to know where the enemy forces are; to be able to collaboratively engage in those forces in the safest way possible. I think that network-centric warfare was a recognition of the power of enabling forces to be more effective via assured communications. Multi-domain operations are a recognition that there's a paradigm shift being experienced after 40 years of Five Eye dominance in information warfare, space, and communications.
‘We're seeing now this technology leadership shift, moving away from... Leadership is moving away from defence organisations that invented technologies like mobile networking, satellite communications, and cybersecurity. They invented these technologies to empower war-fighters and make them able to be more mission effective and safer. But we saw this technology leadership transition to the private sector. As the private sector began to invest much more money than defence organisations could. They invested much faster and they used agile development techniques. They used agile development processes to accelerate speed to market, improve and steepen the technology trajectories in these technology segments. As this technology leadership shifted to the private sector, now you saw satellite technology, mobile networking technology, and cybersecurity technology accelerate at an unprecedented rate.’
Let's then look at those technologies underpinning the concept of multi-domain operations. In this episode, we focus on space and satellite communications, or SATCOM in military parlance.
As a result of the upsurge in the electronic warfare threat, Five Eyes' military services are now considering the use of different applications and technologies to avoid disruption to SATCOM. Options include a greater reliance on commercial SATCOM providers to hide in the noise of greater amounts of radio traffic.
There is increased use of advanced extremely high-frequency satellite systems, aimed at providing survivable anti-jam and low probability of intercept or detection SATCOM connectivity. Finally, there are developments in on-the-move antennas to avoid interference and detection by enemy forces, as well as supporting more discreet operations.
Here's Major General Stephen Whiting, who is commander of the 14th Air Force at US Air Force Space Command, explaining the importance of SATCOM and the space domain to operations.
Maj. Gen. Whiting: ‘Perhaps the most critical element to multi-domain operations is multi-domain command and control. When we think about the attributes of multi-domain command and control, they argue for the very strengths that space brings us. So those three attributes for command and control might be the ability to have situational awareness, the ability to make rapid decisions and the ability to direct and control your forces. Now, as airmen, when we think about situational awareness, we're not just concerned about the view out to the horizon that we can see. Even out to the forward line of truth; we're concerned about situational awareness across the theatre. For decades, that has meant at a continental level, and more and more it means at a global level.
‘That's exactly what space enables us to do. Space allows us to legally fly over any point on the earth to look over that next hill, to look into that next country, to see what the threats are, what the opportunities for humanitarian assistance are, what the weather's going to be, what missiles are being launched… So, space helps us produce that situational awareness. When we think about rapid decision-making, of course in a multilateral context, that implies a federated decision-making process across vast distances. That includes linking our national capitals, it includes linking our fixed military facilities. It also includes going to austere locations and linking up with forces that a month or a week ago didn't even know they would be in that location, and don't have terrestrial infrastructure to plug into. That's what space brings us again: The ability to operate free from terrestrial infrastructure, whether that's a carrier strike group going somewhere in the world, or our deployed and expeditionary forces.
‘Then finally this ability to direct and control our forces. Of course, that's not just a top-down radio broadcast. We need that to be a feedback loop where we're getting information from the tactical edge. Understanding what those units are seeing and then engaging in a command and control relationship that is robust.’
But to protect and foster this multi-domain command and control, military commanders need to focus on the entire electromagnetic spectrum.
In one high profile example, the US Navy has fundamentally changed the way it operates. We will look at that services approach to the electromagnetic spectrum in more detail in our third episode on cyber.
But equally in a heavily contested environment against adversaries with sophisticated electronic warfare capabilities, access to satellite communications may not always be guaranteed. When it comes to networking across all domains, what commanders are looking for is what's described as information dominance and information availability.
Here's Viasat's, Ken Peterman again to explain more.
Peterman: ‘When we look at multi-domain operations, one of the things I think we're realising is that we're moving from operations in land, sea and air, which have been the dominant domains for thousands of years. In fact, land and sea were dominant for thousands of years. The air domain came into play in the early 1900s and we saw the space domain come into play about 50 years later. So, we've had four domains in multi-domain operation that had been recognised probably for the last 50 years. What you're seeing now is the additional domains of electromagnetic spectrum and cybersecurity coming into play as additional war-fighter domains in the multi-domain battle-space. This changes the way defence organisations think, it changes tactics, it changes procedures, it changes con-ops. These additional domains have significant impact on land, air and sea operations. So, this multi-domain operation requires effective communications infrastructure to enable rapid command control situation awareness. It has to operate at the speed of relevance. We see our defence customers talk about information dominance and information availability, so decision-making can occur at the speed of relevance.
‘In the private sector, we look at that as real-time network visualisation management and control to the individual device level, so that we know what each individual device is doing at any point in time. What their connectivity, forward and return link connectivity is, whether they're experiencing electromagnetic effects like jamming, where they're experiencing cyber-attack and those kinds of things. It's imperative that we understand and we have visualisation of the network performance to the individual device level in real-time. So that we can support the war-fighter demand for information, relevance, and decision-making in real-time.’
Invariably, it is inevitable that the ability of Five Eyes nations to access military satellite communications will be threatened in any future conflict with a peer competitor.
But as Major General Whiting explains, this is no reason to accept anything less than full space superiority.
Maj. Gen. Whiting: ‘We know that our networks and our space capabilities will be challenged, but we shouldn't accept that we're going to lose our space capabilities in the face of those threats. This leads me to my second point: The spaces of war-fighting domain that's been said several times. Imagine in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s as the Soviets were developing ever more capable integrated air defence systems. If we had said, "You know what? Flying in those environments is going to be so difficult, we're just going to give up. We're going to tell our land and maritime teammates that they're going to have to figure out how to fight without airpower." That'd be ludicrous. Airpower brings us too many advantages. So, we set out to develop tactics, techniques, procedures, and con-ops like air-land battle. We developed new kit at huge investment like the F-117 [Nighthawk], the B2 [Spirit], the F22 [Raptor], and the F35 [Lightning II], which have given us decades more capability in the face of those integrated air defence systems.
‘Similarly, I've been in the war games, I've been in national exercises, I've been in planning conferences where folks inside my own country and other allied nations as well have said: “When we get into the deeper phases of the fight, we're not going to have our space capabilities. Those threats are too extensive and we're going to have to figure out how to fight without space.” Now, I certainly do think we need to have resilient TTPs we can fall back on when our capabilities are challenged, but we should not accept that we will not have space deep into those fights. So, we must deliver the capability to operate when and where we need in space for the purposes that we need. You'll notice that's half the definition of space superiority. The other half is denying our adversaries the ability to operate in space when and where we so choose.
‘More and more as we think about a fight with a peer competitor, we are going to find that delivering space superiority, or at the beginning of that operation fighting to maintain that space, our superiority will be absolutely necessary. All and everything else that we want to do will be at risk. So, our terrestrial war-fighters more and more, you will find in exercises, and God forbid we ever get into that fight, that early on, the target sets that we're servicing will help to produce that space superiority - to enable that multi-domain command and control and allow us to fight the way that we so choose.’
Here, the private sector offers a number of lessons.
While the Five Eyes community, in particular, the US has traditionally approached new military technology from the basis that any new capability will have to be invented in government R&D labs, today the private sector has often beaten the path already.
We will consider this paradigm in more detail in a future episode. But for now, here's Viasat's Ken Peterman about how Five Eyes militaries can leverage private sector technology developments.
Peterman: ‘We have a network with millions of devices on it every day. We support a diverse array of users, subscribers, and use cases: From high-profile government leadership to individual home residences, enterprises, businesses, commercial airlines, business jets, luxury yachts, merchant marine… We support a vast and diverse array of subscribers with a diverse array of use cases. As a result, we've built a network of networks to assure real-time connectivity and assured connectivity across all that diversity of use case. We do that by assuring connectivity by providing a network of networks. So that, for example, in a satellite domain, we operate satellites in geosynchronous orbit. We're able to move subscribers among satellites that are operating at different frequency bands like Ku [12-18Ghz] and Ka [26.5-40 Ghz] or Mil-Ka. We're able to move subscribers from a geo-orbital regime to a MEO [Medium Earth Orbit] regime. If, in fact, the MEO-satellite networks better support the use case of the individual subscriber. In fact, we're moving toward being able to move them to LEO [Low Earth Orbit] satellites in a lower orbit regime in order to be able to support use cases that require lower latency.
‘So, this network of networks in the multi-domain battle-space is critical because it sustains conductivity in all environments. It enables users to move among different networks, to operate on different satellites, to operate among different frequency bands, to operate on different waveforms and to operate in different ground infrastructures and different networking protocols. These different networks have different cybersecurity implementations. So being able to roam among these different networks not only allows you to support the use case optimally and beyond the network that most optimally only supports that use case. But it also enables users to have assured connectivity because there's strength in numbers. It enables assured connectivity because they can hide in plain sight among this array of different network choices. It imposes significant costs and complexity on an adversary that's trying to identify where our military users are operating and to be able to attempt to disrupt or impede our ability to communicate and sustain communications. So, a hybrid adaptive network that employs multiple satellite constellations at different frequency bands is enormously empowering.’
The ideal then is an individual military subscriber who would be connected to multiple networks simultaneously and who can roam among those networks based on which best serves their mission.
Ken Peterman uses the analogy of cell phones and the constantly upgraded networks that mobile phone users have access to.
Peterman: ‘In many ways, that future proofs our network so that our subscribers continue to have this continuum where they can ride the trajectory of this technology acceleration, this technology improvement, constantly getting better service, more secure service, and more reliable service as the technology improves. The analogy would be your cell phone and your smartphone, where it's rapidly moved from 2G to 3G to 4G to 5G LTE; none of us as a subscriber had to invest in that infrastructure directly. We simply paid our monthly fee and the competitive nature of the market brought forward these new technologies as fast as the market could do so, which was extremely fast in defence terms. As a result, we all benefit from this constantly improving network that we're able to subscribe to. Our defence forces have an untapped opportunity to do the same thing and to leverage these technology trajectories. Instead of fielding a military purpose-built system that provides a central targetable point of attack for an adversary. Our defence organisations can leverage this private sector technology acceleration, leverage this myriad or this array of network - this network of networks - In order to always have our war-fighters connected with the best available cutting-edge technology and be able to roam among all these different networks at any point in time.
‘It creates resiliency, it creates assured connectivity, it improves security, it creates a very difficult, complex calculus on an adversary that doesn't know what network our forces are on at any point in time. We can actually do more than that. At Viasat, we're building the technology. So, an individual subscriber who might have multiple applications running on their personal device or on their war-fighter device - those individual applications can be split and routed over different networks simultaneously. So, for example, if an individual war-fighter is using a device that's streaming video, we can route that streaming video over a geo-satellite in where the capacity best supports that use case; we can slice other use cases that require low latency and route those over LEO; we can slice off different use cases that might be best served by a MEO constellation. So, an individual subscriber can be connected to multiple networks simultaneously in order to best support their use case. You can imagine how this changes the game from an adversary perspective, who's trying to disrupt or impede that individual war-fighters capability, to maintain connectivity on the network. It’s game-changing.’
To get a better idea of the satellite communication requirements of the Five Eyes community and how these needs are evolving in the face of current threats, we turned to the Canadian Armed Forces.
Colonel Mark Parsons is director of land command information for the Canadian Army.
We sat down with Colonel Parsons earlier in the year to hear about the importance of satellite communications to Canadian army missions, in particular, the investment in Satcom on the move capabilities.
Col. Parsons: ‘So, satellite communications is of highly importance. When you consider that being in North America and any of the operations that we have are more than likely not going to be in North America. There are different aspects of satellite communications that you need, which is that reach back. So that's actually leveraged and controlled essentially through the Canadian government, in order to give us those dedicated satellite channels, to provide that Canadian-only reach back, to keep in contact with fields on the ground from what I consider a local, a regional type of communication. So, when a battle group or a battalion goes into the field, we are used to Wi-Fi services, we are used to phone services everywhere. We go into austere environments, that's not always available. So, you have to fall back to locally run or I guess a smaller portable-sized satellite services to which we are leveraging, for sure, down to small detachments that are dealing with creating that part of the network.
‘One of the bigger initiatives that we're working on right now is actually what we call satellite communications on the move. In the old days, about a decade ago, you'd have to pull off to the side, set everything up, do your communications, pull everything down and move on. Not very tactically sound. So, part of that is how do we integrate satellite communications while you're moving at very interesting speeds? Into different and interesting locations? So that commanding control is still being given. So, that has been a capital project that has been introduced for the Canadian Army; we're still rolling it out, still identifying what's the best platform. More importantly, what are the right vehicles in order to actually target this capability to? We're working with our industry partners and those that have won the contracts to deliver those types of capabilities.
‘The scope of where we go as well is also interesting. As you go further north in Canada, you lose your satellite capabilities. So, we're definitely in partnership with other initiatives on how we deal with polar orbit satellite constellations, putting that into place so that we have full coverage - not only from a domestic perspective - but leverage that for expeditionary operations. Of course, then there’s the balance of cost over convenience. Satellite's easy because it's there but very high on the costs, so we have to strike that balance as to exactly how we deal with that.’
The man in charge of balancing these requirements works for the Royal Canadian Air Force, which now oversees the provision of Satcom for the Canadian Armed Forces.
Colonel Cameron Stoltz is director of space requirements with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RACF).
Like many Five Eyes nations, Canada provides for much of its Satcom needs through partnering with the US on its current satellite programmes.
Col. Stoltz: ‘Space capabilities have become central to military operations and are crucial to our collective security and sovereignty. This is particularly relevant in Canada, where we have a large landmass - a very large landmass - with a relatively small population that is concentrated around our southern border with the United States. Which means that in our north and in our large vast north, there's very sparse communications or very sparse population, which makes communications very challenging.
Back now, I guess three years ago in 2016, our vice chief, the defence staff, transferred the functional responsibility of space to the RCAF. It had previously been held at the central command in a joint area. We're now led by a director-general space. After that, after transfer to the RCAF, we've developed a defence space five-year roadmap, which lays the framework for the defence space programme for the Canadian Armed Forces.
‘The reliance of militaries on space-based capabilities to carry out day to day operations is only growing. So, it is in our collective interest to strive for stronger cooperation with partners and allies in the space domain. Canada has been partnering with like-minded allies for decades and this initiative is being operationalised through combined space operations to improve deterrence and enhance the resiliency of our space systems, while also ensuring continuing access to the space domain.’
Central to this partnering with allies for Satcom capacity is Canada's participation in two US-led military satellite programmes - the Advanced EHF [Extremely High Frequency] network and the wide-band global SATCOM or WGS constellation.
Colonel Stoltz explains that with the fifth EHF satellite recently launched into orbit, Canada is able to access the network through its protected military satellite communications programme.
Col. Stoltz: ‘So, we find that with respect to the Advanced EHF constellation, and with the way we have access, that through our Protected Military Satellite Communications [PMSC] project a secure and reliable satellite communication is, as you know, essential for command and control of military operations. That doesn't matter whether they're in remote regions in Canada or around the world. So, our protected MILSATCOM communication project is what ensures us access to that secure over the horizon communications in support of a Canadian Armed Forces operations around the world. The PMSC project provides the Canadian Armed Forces with our protected global military satellite communications, essentially between 65° North and 65° South, for terminals for our land, sea, and air forces.
Now, what's important about Advanced EHF is it has a protected nature to it, which is unlike conventional communication systems. It incorporates technical features that are designed to overcome vulnerabilities to electronic jamming, interference, and detection. PMSC provides a number of enhancements over the standard or the commercial SATCOM and other military SATCOM capabilities as well, that it includes guaranteed, survivable protected, secure jam-resistant access. That we reserve for our highest priority critical communications.
‘So, when it comes to the wide-band global system or the WGS constellation, we actually implement that here in Canada through a project that's called the Mercury Global. Again, that leverages our buy-in or our access to the US MOU that provides high bandwidth SATCOM in both X-band and a military Ka-band. Again, to global users. We find with the advances in military and information technology and the ever-increasing bandwidth demands, that the secure exchange of information with higher data rates between headquarters formations, units, the whole gamut, I guess, is becoming increasingly critical to the success of any modern military operation.’
One Canadian specific requirement is the need for coverage at the far North of the country. An area the geo-stationary satellites in orbit cannot provide coverage to.
Colonel Stoltz explains that with the Arctic region expected to become more heavily contested as areas begin to open up with the melting of the ice caps, Canada regards satellite communications to the region as critical sovereign capability.
Col. Stoltz: ‘That's a huge area within Canada that's very limited access that we have right now. Just because of the sparsity of the population and the infrastructure in the North, as well as the capabilities of the current geostationary satellites to reach that high. So, we recognise that shortfall right now as an outstanding requirement for the Canadian Armed Forces. In order to be able to command and control on that area, to demonstrate sovereignty. All of those sorts of things require an ability to communicate throughout the entire reaches of Canada, which goes right to the very most northern aspects of Canada.
Because of that, we have initiated the Enhanced Satellite Communications Project, Polar or the Escape Project as we like to call it that will deliver this or has a goal of delivering this Arctic communications infrastructure. Specifically, the Escape project will provide guaranteed, reliable and secure access in both narrow-band and wide-band in support of operations of the Arctic.
‘So, the project itself, right now, it will initially... It's planned right now I should say to come online with initial operation capability no later than 2029, with a final operational capability no later than 2031. So, this is what's currently scheduled and we do recognise though that there is a current operational gap, so we're doing everything possible and we will be doing everything possible to advance that timeline, as much as possible as the project progresses. One thing I would also note is that because of the northern aspect of this particular project, we're not the only country that operates in the north, so we have certainly received interest from a number of our northern allies. We foresee this being an important part of this project. Will obviously advance that level of participation and see what the outcome is as the project progresses.’
As new requirements such as this work their way through the various acquisition systems, industry is offering new business models and options for the military to tap into existing and planned satellite constellations.
Indeed, if we look to the future of SATCOM, military agencies, and industry players alike are considering a range of more cost-effective and efficient solutions that can provide support to end-users across air, land, and maritime domains.
As new requirements become finalised, industry is confident there will be increased scope for Five Eyes militaries to leverage private sector technology.
Viasat's Ken Peterman reiterates the advantages of a multi-network approach, where individual military users can operate on multiple simultaneously.
Peterman: ‘Employing this network of networks, this multi-network enterprise from a connectivity perspective, essentially future proofs our war-fighters communications capability. We provide interoperability at the network layer, which means that as new networks and new satellites come available - those might be at higher frequency bands like V-band, they may be in optical communications, they may be other things that we haven't even thought of yet - these additional networks can be readily incorporated in or bolted on to this hybrid network of networks architecture, in order to take full advantage of that as that technology becomes available. So, there is yet untapped opportunity for our defence customers to ride this private sector technology trajectory and have the capability to continually put this cutting-edge technology in front of our war-fighter customers and make it available to them. That's why we think that new and innovative business models are needed as a companion to this new and innovative technology, buying these capabilities as a service instead of inventing them, which was what was required 40 years ago.
‘If our DoD or MoD customers tapped into this private sector technology and bought it as a service, then you get to ride that technology trajectory in the same way we do in the private sector, where we might initially buy service on a 2G network. But then 3G, 4G, 5G LTE comes along and our network provider automatically upgrades to those new speeds and new capacities. They want to preserve our subscription and they don't want us to switch service to another provider.
‘Okay, DoD and MoD have the same capability now, as they can buy as a service and at any point in time, they can switch service providers. They might even buy service on multiple service providers to impose additional costs and complexity on adversary that doesn't know which network they're operating on at any point in time. This is a significant paradigm shift that changes war-fighter con-ops and tactics. It empowers them like it never has before. It causes changes in acquisition and business models. Whether we're talking about Canadian programmes or whether we're talking about a UK programmes like Sky Net. Whether we're talking about programmes in Australia like 9102. I think all of these acquisition organisations are looking at how empowering these commercial technologies are. How affordable they are relative to past business practices. They're looking at new ways to do business or tap into this private sector technology opportunity.’
Beyond the increased capacity made available through the use of commercial satellite networks, one further advantage of what Ken Peterman describes as a satellite technology trajectory is the anti-jam characteristics of modern satellites and terminals.
Viasat is currently developing its Viasat three-class of Ka-band satellites, which is expected to provide vastly superior capabilities in terms of service, speed, and flexibility.
Each Viasat three-class satellite is expected to deliver more than one terabit per second of network capacity to leverage high levels of flexibility to dynamically direct capacity to where customers are located. Ken Peterman explains further.
Peterman: ‘I think Viasat has more satellite capacity in orbit than any other company or government in the world. In a few, in a year or two, Viasat will have more satellite capacity in orbit than everyone else combined, In all frequency domains and all orbital regimes. So, I think that the game is changing dramatically. That's why I talk in terms of the technology trajectory - it's also this paradigm shift that isn't just about capacity. You're seeing satellites move from large, expensive terminals, and large satellite beams from a coverage perspective, to small terminals that operate at a hundred times the data rate of these large, expensive, exquisite terminals. You're seeing thousands of transmitters on at a single time using a single frequency band, you're seeing spot beams that are much, much smaller - spot beams that maybe a modern Viasat three satellite has a thousand small spot beams, whereas larger purpose-built systems only have a few.
‘This imposes enormous complexity on an adversary because of the anti-jam characteristics or resiliency characteristics or security characteristics. The opportunity for an adversary to do data collection at a ground station, the opportunity to operate in the presence of a high-powered jammer… All of these things are dramatically improved with a Viasat two or Viasat three-generation satellite. This kind of emergent technology is essentially immune to ground-based jamming, it's essentially immune to ground-based data collection in many ways. It's essentially immune to a kinetic strike or disruption by a fibre or power outage. It's a completely different architecture than what has been used before. That's what I mean by there being such an untapped opportunity for defence organisations to leverage these technology trajectories. They're significantly better in a capacity and performance context. But what is really valuable to defence organisations is that they're significantly better in a war-fighter context. They're better in this multi-domain battle-space environment and significantly better 10 times, 100 times, 1000 times more effective in a contested environment. With high power jamming, attempts at geolocation, a cyber-attack and those kinds of things, that's where the real power of this commercial technology lies.’
Back at the air and space power conference, the outlook from military commanders could be described as one of cautious optimism.
General Goldfein said that US Air Force had made great progress in developing multi-domain command and control, and its role in modern warfare.
For example, the Pentagon has set up a war-fighting integration centre to help make the hard choices about future investments: Choices that go beyond trade-offs between platforms, sensors, and weapons. Instead, look at integrating systems that allow commanders to close kill chains at a speed that adversaries can never match.
Gen. Goldfein: ‘Multi-domain command and control is the most critical element of achieving future victory through multi-domain operations. But while the idea can be powerful, I've found over the years that it can be a bit challenging to visualise how warfare can unfold simultaneously at speed and scale across multiple domains. Just as importantly is to visualise where we need to go together as air and space chiefs to build an integrated and a networked force. We're going to need to deter. If deterrence fails, to fight together and win. Multi-domain operations using dominance in one domain or many. Lending a few capabilities or many to produce multiple dilemmas for our adversaries. While the nature of war remains constant, the character of war is changing. Perhaps our adversaries will watch how we are operating and take a pause. The age-old math equation of deterrence has not changed since the beginning of man conflict. It is still capability times as perceived by the adversary.
‘So, if we are successful at causing our enemies to pause and question whether they can achieve their political objectives, perhaps that's what winning looks like in the age of hybrid warfare.’
Next time on Five Eyes Connectivity, we come back down to earth and look at the tactical communication networks available to military commanders, how they're being upgraded, enhanced, and modernised to deal with the new realities of warfare.
We hear about the ubiquitous Link 16 network and how this capability is being enhanced and upgraded.
We hear more about how the private sector is bringing its capability to bear to provide new advantages to military services.
That's episode two, next time on Five Eyes Connectivity, available now wherever you get your podcasts.
The Five Eyes Connectivity special was created by Shephard Studio and produced by Tony Skinner. In partnership with our sponsor, Viasat. A big thanks to everyone who gave their time to support the project. Until next time.
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