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SATELLITE 2019 shines light on a strategic shift in military satellite infrastructure

Each year, the satellite industry’s top equipment manufacturers, solution providers and thought leaders come to the nation’s capital for the SATELLITE Conference and Exposition. This year’s event, SATELLITE 2019, occurred earlier this month and – as usual – was an incredible opportunity for public and private sector purchasers of satellite services and equipment to see the latest innovations in the industry, while discussing the trends and technologies shaping satellites and space into the future.

Much like in years past, SATELLITE 2019 featured a government track, with side sessions and panel discussions that ranged in their focus from selling to government buyers, to the role of government investment and partnership in driving satellite industry growth. One particular panel, entitled, “Updating Government Satellite Service Models,” truly stood out. That’s because much of what was discussed during that session involved a monumental and fundamental shift in the way that the federal government – specifically the military – approaches its communications architecture and interacts with the satellite industry.

For decades, the military has purchased satellite capacity on the spot market and treated satellite connectivity as a commodity. This was an arrangement that has been much maligned by satellite executives and wholly inefficient for the government and taxpayers, since that acquisition model is often the most expensive.

As panelists, Frank Backes of KRATOS, David Bair of Eutelsat, Pete Hoene of SES Government Solutions and Rick Lober of Hughes Network Systems, were excited to point out – that could all change.

As last year’s Wideband Analysis of Alternatives identified, and as industry partners have been saying for years, the military can benefit greatly from evolving its relationship with industry into more of a strategic partnership. They can also greatly increase the resiliency and assurance of their satellite networks by making commercial satellites part of a distributed, disaggregated satellite architecture.

This is an idea that Ken Peterman, the President of Government Systems at Viasat and the panel’s moderator, claimed is gaining traction within the military. According to Mr. Peterman, “I think, within government circles, support continues to build for a DOD, hybrid, multi-network adaptive enterprise so that the DoD has the improved resiliency, improved mobility and improved flexibility to take full advantage of commercial innovation.”

So, why the seismic shift? It ultimately comes down to the benefits that the military can gain from integrating commercial satellite communications (COMSATCOM) services into their architecture – which are becoming too numerous to ignore.

“I think a DoD acquisition process and culture that is predicated on inventing technology for the warfighter now needs to acknowledge that leadership in technology sectors – such as satellite communications – has moved to the private sector.” – Ken Peterman

More assured and more innovative
As today’s military platforms and vehicles become increasingly network-centric and network-enabled, it’s becoming incredibly important that network connectivity be available anytime, anywhere. In this environment, network assurance is essential, and the addition of COMSATCOM services and solutions into the military’s combined satellite architecture could play a massive role in making network connectivity more assured.

Part of that increased mission assurance is the ability to send communications over commercial satellite networks when military satellites are jammed or otherwise denied. This benefit was explained by Mr. Hoene, who said, “You have more than 150 [commercial] satellites available to take advantage of. If you make [those satellites] part of a disaggregated architecture…when WGS gets jammed, you can seamlessly transition to one of the commercial satellite systems.”

But relying on commercial satellites to fill the gap created by denied military satellites is just one way that this combined, disaggregated infrastructure increases resiliency. As Mr. Hoene pointed out, it can also help to protect satellites and mitigate threats in the first place.

“The enemy will not be able to determine which satellites to jam or deny if the military is utilizing a combination of WGS and the 150-plus commercial GEO satellites,” Mr. Hoene said. “That distributed, disaggregated architecture complicates their calculus.”

This increased mission assurance and resiliency is one benefit of a comprehensive satellite architecture that utilizes both military and commercial satellite services and resources, but there is another enormous benefit – innovation. That’s because the satellite industry is constantly building and launching new satellites, and constantly looking to embrace newer and better technologies to make their services more attractive to customers.

Mr. Peterman illustrated the satellite industry’s new role as an innovator when he said, “I think a DoD acquisition process and culture that is predicated on inventing technology for the warfighter now needs to acknowledge that leadership in technology sectors – such as satellite communications – has moved to the private sector.”

By embracing an architecture that combines military and commercial satellites and resources, the military would effectively gain access to the advanced technologies being implemented across commercial owner/operators without having to develop, build and launch them itself.

By increasingly embracing commercial satellite services and offerings, the military could gain access to any number of new innovations being implemented across the satellite industry. This includes High-Throughput Satellites (HTS) at both GEO and MEO orbits capable of delivering fiber-like connectivity from space today, and not years down the road.

As Mr. Hoene explained, “The government needs to lean forward and give much of the work to industry so that industry can bring the innovation that we’re known for to the table. We develop the next generation GEO satellite and in two or three years, we launch. While the government would be looking [to launch in] ten years or twelve years.”

For additional information about the benefits of high-throughput, low-latency satellite connectivity for the military, click HERE.

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