In late February, the leading commercial satellite providers and innovators will meet with government satellite decision makers from across the world for the GOVSATCOM 2022 Conference in Luxembourg. This annual event brings together satellite thought leaders from across the public and private sectors to share advancements in satellite technology, learn how satellite technologies and services could help fill government mission requirements, and discuss the future use cases for satellite across world governments and allied militaries.
One of the speakers at this year’s event is General Curtis Michael “Mike” Scaparrotti, a retired United States Army four-star general who last served as the Commander of United States European Command.
Gen. Scaparrotti will be delivering a keynote address during the event covering the existing and emerging security threats facing NATO allies, the importance of SATCOM for meeting these threats, and the advanced satellite capabilities that could have an impact on military conflicts today or in the future. And the timing of his address couldn’t be any better, with NATO currently facing a potential conflict in Eastern Europe with one of its largest near-peer adversaries.
We sat down with Gen. Scaparrotti in advance of the event to hear his thoughts on the military’s current SATCOM requirements, the importance of assured communications and SATCOM resilience in the face of current threats, and the ability of COMSATCOM to meet other service member connectivity requirements.
Gen. Scaparrotti: I graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1978 and was commissioned as an Infantry Officer. I served my first five years in the 82nd Airborne Division, a unit I would return to and command the 2nd Brigade. In the interim, I served as an operations officer in the 10th Mountain Division, and also commanded the 3-325 Airborne Combat Team in Vicenza, Italy. These early assignments included operational deployments in Africa and the Balkans.
As a general officer, I served as the Deputy Commanding General for Maneuver for the 1st Armored Division in Iraq, the commander for the 82nd Airborne Division with a tour in Afghanistan, and the Commander of U.S. I Corp and ISAF Joint Command in Afghanistan. My final assignments included Director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, Commander of the UN Command/Combined Forces Command/U.S. Forces Korea, and Commander U.S. European Command/Supreme Allied Commander Europe.
Throughout those 41 years are periods of military and civilian schooling, four assignments to the Army and Joint Staff in Washington and an assignment as the Commandant, United States Military Academy.
GSR: You had a 41-year career in the Army before retiring. In that time, how did the importance of satellite evolve and change?
Gen. Scaparrotti: The Army that I entered in 1978 was the one that just completed the Vietnam Conflict and reflected essentially the WWII Army my father served in. The uniforms were similar and much of the equipment was the same, with landlines and FM radio for communications, and a map and compass for location and fire control. It wasn’t until I was approaching battalion command that SATCOM was used at the battalion level, and – even then – in a limited capacity.
“From what I’ve seen recently, commercial satellite providers are the engines of innovation, providing capabilities today and on the horizon that are quite promising.” – Gen. Scaparrotti
It was in these middle years that we began to utilize satellites to provide situational awareness, operational and strategic communications, and precision guidance for weapons systems. The “revolution in military affairs” of the 90’s and the Gulf War were representative of the advancement of technology in warfighting. And, by the turn of the century when we were talking about Network Centric Warfare and Force 21, our Army organized to leverage emerging digital technology.
In Iraq, we shifted the 1st Armored Division from an analog C2 structure to a digital one in combat, because we could be much more effective and efficient. For the remainder of my career, primarily in command at operational and strategic levels, the importance of satellites and their capabilities have continued to advance rapidly – literally changing the way our military operates and likely even the character of war.
GSR: In late February, you’re going to be speaking at the GOVSATCOM 2022 Conference in Luxembourg. One of the topics listed on the agenda for your keynote address is, “The importance of SATCOM at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels.” How and why is SATCOM important at these levels? What role does SATCOM play, and what capabilities does it deliver at each of these levels?
Gen. Scaparrotti: To be brief on a question that could take a good deal of time, I’ll just begin by saying that the quest of all of the advanced military forces, including Russia and China, is to place a combined, joint network at the center of Command and Control, that is increasingly connected to the systems in each domain – air, land, sea, cyber and space. This advance has and will continue to change the way we fight and the character of warfare.
At the operational and strategic level, satellites provide global awareness, communications, warnings, and operational and strategic reach. They reduce the factors of time, space and decision cycles.
“Availability and speed of information is the world we all live in. We stay aware of world events and family events, and we learn through social media and the internet. So, connectivity…is expected.” – Gen. Scaparrotti
At the tactical level, leaders, and increasingly soldiers, have much greater situational awareness; their unit’s capabilities and reach are significantly enhanced. Also, the ability to fight as an interoperable joint team simultaneously can create speed and mass.
GSR: At a recent Mitchell Spacepower Forum, Gen. John Raymond stated that building a resilient network architecture was a top priority for the Space Force. Why is resiliency so important when it comes to SATCOM today? What risks or threats face our network architecture and SATCOM resources?
Gen. Scaparrotti: Our ability to integrate space assets and our force capabilities at speed is a distinct advantage we have today. China and Russia recognize this and have designed means to deny us these capabilities.
For example, we know they have developed abilities to deny operations for periods of time by electronic jamming or cyber-attacks, and that they have tested both terrestrial and space systems to destroy satellites.
“At the operational and strategic level, satellites provide global awareness, communications, warnings, and operational and strategic reach. They reduce the factors of time, space and decision cycles.” – Gen. Scaparrotti
Network and system resiliency are critical for the joint force, and we need to design our systems and operate in ways that mitigate these threats.
GSR: How has the importance of assured comms increased in light of recent tensions with our largest adversaries – including Russia? How do current events shape our needs and requirements for the kinds of satellite services that are available, and where they are available?
Gen. Scaparrotti: We’ve always wanted assured communications, but with the advance of technology we can have communications at distance and from tactical to operational levels. This is challenging, but increasingly the way we fight.
It is interesting that our adversaries identified this as a vulnerability, but I note that they are following our path. Additionally, with the return of great power competition, we must be postured to respond in multiple theaters, including the Arctic, where we are seeing more activity than ever before and need to ensure we have accessible connectivity with our forces operating in the region.
GSR: What role can commercial satellite providers and other commercial space partners play in helping increase the resiliency of satellite networks? Should the military be looking to build an assured network itself, or should it be building a network that incorporates commercial and military assets?
Gen. Scaparrotti: From what I’ve seen recently, commercial satellite providers are the engines of innovation, providing capabilities today and on the horizon that are quite promising. They are developing capabilities that reduce vulnerabilities and increase the resiliency of networks by positioning, numbers, and capabilities of systems, intra-satellite capabilities, and the flexibility of ground stations.
“Our ability to integrate space assets and our force capabilities at speed is a distinct advantage we have today. China and Russia recognize this and have designed means to deny us these capabilities.” – Gen. Scaparrotti
Also, commercial satellite companies are finding ways to assure nations of communication sovereignty. As a result, I believe that military and commercial networks are possible, and can be effective and efficient.
GSR: Aside from assured comms to meet mission requirements, we’re hearing an increased demand for the military to embrace today’s advanced, low-latency satellite services and solutions to generally increase the connectivity of our military service members while deployed – including for MWR, distance learning, telemedicine, and other capabilities. Is this something that the military should be focused on right now?
Gen. Scaparrotti: Yes, there is an increasing demand for connectivity for our service members. Availability and speed of information is the world we all live in. We stay aware of world events and family events, and we learn through social media and the internet. So, connectivity, tempered by operational conditions, is expected. Given the talented, all-volunteer force that we recruit, this will continue to be a requirement.
Featured image: An airman sets up a satellite in a simulated austere environment at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. (Photo by: Air Force Staff Sgt. Kristine Legate) The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.