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Digital Battlespace

Protected SATCOM grows in importance

1st June 2021 - 16:00 GMT | by Andrew White in London

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A holistic protected SATCOM solution embraces ground infrastructure as well as satellites in space. (Photo: Viasat)

An array of solutions are available — in space and on the ground — to ensure military SATCOM remains secure in the face of soft and hard threats.

In the age of Great Power Competition, armed forces around the world must rely upon maximum levels of connectivity, particularly in contested operating environments.

Tasked with the conduct of missions in the face of near-peer adversaries, capable of intercepting and disrupting voice and data traffic, commanders are turning to protected SATCOM solutions to ensure mission effectiveness.

Technologies available include protected waveforms plus tracking, telemetry and control (TT&C) systems, as well as diverse space-based and ground-based infrastructure. When combined, these elements can assure communications in the face of soft and hard threats including anti-satellite missiles and cyber intrusion.

Companies offering such solutions include Viasat with Craig Miller, president of government systems, explaining to Shephard how the entire SATCOM ecosystem must be protected from cyber and EW threats in particular.

‘Satellites, beams, ground terminals and TT&C are linked in a chain to form the communications network and you have to protect the holistic system and make sure these are as secure as possible,’ he explained, while confirming cyber threats remain the most significant threats across the contemporary operating environment.

In response, Viasat has designed a grid system of smaller spot beams that reduce vulnerability to interference by near-peer adversaries. This is augmented by frequency-hopping architectures which Miller explained would allow end-users to ‘re-use frequencies in flexible configurations so if a frequency is jammed, end users can hop to another frequency band and avoid the band that’s compromised’.

On the ground, infrastructure is protected through a distributed gateway architecture featuring hundreds of small satellite antennas, providing levels of redundancy should a number be disrupted by enemy forces.

Finally, Viasat continues to take steps to protect TT&C systems from jamming and denial of service attacks.

‘There are a variety of ways to ensure this, through protocol and waveform levels, transmission security or things to do in terms of geo-isolation to make sure commands only come from a certain place at a certain time,’ he said.

‘Satellites, beams, ground terminals and TT&C are linked in a chain to form the communications network and you have to protect the holistic system'

Craig Miller, Viasat president of government systems

On 1 June, Viasat announced that it will integrate its In-line Network Encryptor (INE) into the Link 16-capable low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite which the company is developing for the US Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles XVI programme.

INE will provide communications security and additional enhanced cybersecurity capabilities that are initially associated with mission data transfer with future evolutions expected to simultaneously secure user data; TT&C management; and inter-satellite communications – at multiple security levels.

Elsewhere, L3Harris Technologies is also offering up solutions to protect SATCOM, particularly relating to threats emerging from the electromagnetic spectrum.

Product director Shane Sims described to Shephard how protected SATCOM remains a ‘key driver’ for armed forces around the world.

‘In order to do that you have to communicate and know your adversary is going to try and deny communications. So it’s critical that we have protected SATCOM and line-of-sight communications,’ he explained.

L3Harris provides the USAF with the Protected Tactical Enterprise Service, which comprises the anti-jam Protected Tactical Waveform and Network Centric Waveform Resilient.

The company is also contracted to provide the USAF with the Air Force and Army Anti-Jam Modem, which comprises a secure, wideband and anti-jam SATCOM terminal, which can be integrated aboard multi-domain platforms.

L3Harris also promotes a diverse ground architecture solution with terminal concepts being explored in the Ka, Ku and X bands to aggregate data across a variety of SATCOM networks.

The company is also exploring LEO SATCOM capabilities including the Multi Orbit Satellite Service programme, which was demonstrated to the US Army in September 2020. MOSS integrates commercial and military protected SATCOM in LEO, mid-Earth orbit and geostationary orbit.

‘Industry as a whole has to come together. We have all of these specific DoD programmes that we are pursuing for protected SATCOM but at the same time, we sometimes need to partner to deliver the best solution,’ Sims said. 

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