Over the past few years, we’ve seen the United States Department of Defense (DoD) invest heavily in a new joint strike fighter that has been casually referred to as a “sensor with wings.” We’ve seen the adoption of unmanned vehicles outside of the air domain, with unmanned surface vehicles (USV) and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV) increasingly considered a large part of the Navy’s future. And we’ve seen the warfighter start to rely on mobile devices in theater.
To say that the future of the U.S. military is more software-enabled, and more network-enabled than ever before would be a massive understatement. Everything that the military is developing and piloting for use in battle today needs connectivity.
Just look at the Army’s IVAS program, which is working to deliver an advanced augmented reality (AR) solution to the warfighter on the battlefield – putting important information, situational awareness capabilities, and other tools directly in their field of vision via a HoloLens headset.
According to Steve Kitay, the Senior Director of Azure Space at Microsoft, the IVAS headset will be augmented by Azure cloud services, and function to, “[keep] soldiers safer and [make] them more effective…[by] delivering enhanced situational awareness, enabling information sharing, and decision making for a variety of scenarios.”
And while this is certainly an exciting and revolutionary new tool in the warfighter’s kit, it’s only possible with connectivity in theater.
If everything that the warfighter relies on in theater is going to become network-enabled, then connectivity needs to be assured. Training a soldier to rely on a tool that only works when connected would be setting them up for failure if the network that supports the tool can be degraded or denied. Resilient, assured networks are no longer “nice to have,” they’re mission-critical.
While that looks good on paper, assured networks are easier to discuss – or write about – than they are to implement in the real world.
Complexity and a lack of transparency impact uptime
The terrestrial networks that provide the backbone of our high-bandwidth connectivity at home are incredibly stable and reliable, with SLAs and uptimes that ensure that connectivity is almost always available. Unfortunately, those terrestrial networks, themselves, are often unavailable where the military and government operates.
In foreign countries and isolated geographic locations, terrestrial networks may not exist at all. If that infrastructure does exist, it could be unreliable, or it could be untrusted. But that’s not just a problem that the military faces abroad. There are large swaths of our own country with no high-bandwidth terrestrial networks due to cost, geography, or other reasons.
In these places, satellite connectivity is essential and necessary to deliver the high-bandwidth, high-throughput, low-latency connectivity necessary for the government and military to operate their next-generation, network-enabled platforms, devices, and vehicles.
“…Hydra includes an inventory management system that integrates shared and dedicated devices, circuits, and the space segment into the same contextual environment…[allowing users] to schedule and monitor the entire end-to-end network in a single, integrated pane of glass, diagnose problems more rapidly, and fix problems before they take applications, services, and capabilities offline.” – Amit Katti
But adding satellite communications to the network infrastructure for government agencies and the military effectively increases the complexity of the networks – giving them a network architecture that incorporates assets on Earth, and in space. Much like with a modern car that’s more of a computer than an automobile, this increased complexity can also mean that there are more things that can fail or more things that can go wrong.
Worse, the military is utilizing a number of disparate terrestrial networks, disparate terrestrial hardware, and utilizing space assets and networks that include their own military assets, as well as commercial assets. This creates a lack of transparency and visibility into everything that’s happening across the network – a problem that the military is actively working to fix by embracing a joint operating environment across all of the DoD’s branches and organizations.
For the government and military to ensure connectivity and have assured networks, they need the ability to see the entire network – both terrestrial assets and space assets – on a single pane of glass. If a single, unified view of the network and the individual devices connected to it were available, the government and military would be able to diagnose problems more rapidly, and fix problems before they take applications, services, and capabilities offline.
Luckily, such a solution now exists.
Increasing transparency and uptime with Hydra
Earlier this week, commercial satellite operator, SES Government Solutions (SES GS) launched a new common operational picture (COP) platform called Hydra that the company claims, “…provides end-to-end situational awareness in a single unified operational network platform.”
Hydra was built in-house by SES GS specifically for their government and military customers. The solution integrates network data from multiple different sources – including operational data from the company’s satellite networks – and enables users to display it on a single dashboard or pane of glass. This could effectively enable the government and military the opportunity to view everything happening on and within their networks in one place – increasing transparency and allowing them to identify and remediate problems with the network more quickly.
“In addition to providing basic M&C data, Hydra includes an inventory management system that integrates shared and dedicated devices, circuits, and the space segment into the same contextual environment,“ explained Amit Katti, a Principal Engineer at SES GS. “This ability to incorporate and visualize the entire network allows the customer to schedule and monitor the entire end-to-end network in a single, integrated pane of glass, diagnose problems more rapidly, and fix problems before they take applications, services, and capabilities offline.”
COP platforms, such as Hydra, could be revolutionary in enabling the military to better monitor their networks – both on Earth and in space – and identify problems before they bring down networks. With network-enabled and software-enabled devices, applications, and platforms making their way into every government and military mission and operation, the timing couldn’t be better.
Networks aren’t “nice to have” at the tactical edge anymore. They’re essential. COP platforms like Hydra are ensuring that these networks are always on and available to the warfighter. This way, the next-generation, high-tech tools that our government and military personnel rely on are there when and where they need them – even in the most remote and austere of environments.
In our next article on the Government Satellite Report, we’ll look at the military’s push for an integrated commercial and military satellite architecture, and how COP platforms like Hydra could help make that a reality.