In our last article on the Government Satellite Report, we looked at the rising importance of networks in government and military operations, and discussed how increasingly mission-critical networks need to be more resilient and assured. We then looked at how a new common operational picture (COP) platform called Hydra released by SES Government Solutions (SES GS) could help provide the transparency necessary to better and more quickly identify problems across convoluted, complicated military networks – both on Earth and in space – and fix those problems before networks and capabilities were denied.
But Hydra could play a role in yet another trend that we’re seeing in the military that puts high importance on network transparency – the establishment of an integrated military satellite architecture that incorporates both COMSATCOM and MILSATCOM assets.
To understand the importance of an integrated architecture and why Hydra is such an essential component, we first have to explore why the military is so adamant about integrating their purpose-built satellites with commercial services.
Bringing it all together
Most of the military’s communications that need to be sent over satellite networks travel via their purpose-built WGS satellite constellation. But there are a limited number of these satellites, they’re all located in Geostationary orbit, and the amount of bandwidth and capacity on the network is limited. In today’s increasingly network-enabled and software-dependent military, limited bandwidth and capacity can be a problem – practically everything on the battlefield will soon require connectivity.
To increase satellite capacity, the military can either purchase new satellites that they will launch and manage, or they can utilize commercial satellite services. One of these things – commercial satellite – is available immediately. The other – building more WGS satellites – could take a half-decade or more to get built and operational.
“If an adversary denies a satellite…having the ability to manage and control the network to send traffic around that network segment – either to other available military satellites or commercial satellites – could be the difference between having comms and not having comms.” – Amit Katti
But there’s more to commercial satellite than just immediate access. Commercial satellite solutions bring other benefits to the table. As Frank Backes, the senior vice president for Federal Space at Kratos, explained in a recent Government Satellite Report interview:
“…an integrated architecture allows the military to leverage the investments the commercial sector has made in innovative technologies. Advanced commercial technologies have added benefits, including increased resilience to interference, jamming, or environmental effects, far more rapid resource allocation, improved situational awareness, and increased bandwidth utilization efficiencies.”
Backes also noted that the WGS constellation faces concerns other than a lack of capacity and bandwidth. The military also has to worry about jamming and kinetic attacks from its largest adversaries – nation-states that have already demonstrated their capability to attack satellites in orbit. By integrating commercial and military satellite assets into one, integrated architecture, the military can seamlessly recover from one of their own satellites being denied.
“…there are not many satellites in the constellation,” Backes explained, “and some consider them easy targets to peer adversaries. Operating as a seamless network enterprise gives the military more options allowing flexibility, scalability, and resiliency.”
Integrating commercial and military satellite assets into one, comprehensive satellite and network architecture gives the military access to more innovative solutions much more quickly, while increasing their satellite capacity, and improving resiliency should WGS satellites be jammed, attacked, or otherwise denied. With all of those benefits, why haven’t they made an integrated satellite architecture the standard already?
Transparency and control
If MILSATCOM resources, such as the satellites in the WGS constellation, are denied, an integrated COMSATCOM and MILSATCOM architecture would enable the military to quickly and seamlessly transition to commercial satellites to fill their communications requirements. While that sounds easy enough, when you stop and think about everything that is required for that handoff to happen, it becomes both incredibly complex and technologically difficult.
“Transparency and control are two challenges that have traditionally stood in the way of an integrated MILSATCOM and COMSATCOM architecture. Hydra is an essential tool for giving the military the transparency and control it needs to better incorporate COMSATCOM into its operations and missions in the future.”
For starters, the military would need to know exactly where the problem resides. They would need to know that a WGS satellite is being denied, or the amount of capacity they need for the mission is available – and the problem doesn’t reside somewhere else within the network. Once they determine what the problem is, they would then need the situational awareness to know which COMSATCOM resources were available in that theater, secure capacity on those resources, and seamlessly transition all of their traffic and workloads over to the COMSATCOM network.
There are a lot of moving parts in that process. And almost all of them require transparency – both into their own, military networks and the networks of commercial partners. Also necessary in that process is a certain level of command and control to identify available commercial assets, acquire them, and begin operating with them. These are all things that have held up the integrated MILSATCOM and COMSATCOM architecture in the past. But they’re challenges that industry partners are rapidly working to overcome.
Hydra is one of the important tools and solutions that can help deliver the transparency, command, and control that the military needs to make the integrated satellite architecture a reality.
Hydra was developed in-house by SES GS specifically for its government partners. It aggregates network information from across a user’s network – including both terrestrial and space assets – and allows the user to build custom dashboards that put all necessary network information on a single pane of glass. This means that government and military users could use Hydra to build a dashboard specifically for a mission, and use that dashboard to quickly and effectively identify problems. Should the problem reside in the space domain, Hydra then gives them the command and management tools necessary to fill their requirements with COMSATCOM solutions.
“Integrating commercial and military satellite assets into one, comprehensive satellite and network architecture gives the military access to more innovative solutions much more quickly, while increasing their satellite capacity, and improving resiliency should WGS satellites be jammed, attacked, or otherwise denied.”
According to Amit Katti, a Principal Engineer at SES GS, “If an adversary denies a satellite – either disables it with a kinetic attack or jams its signal – having the ability to manage and control the network to send traffic around that network segment – either to other available military satellites or commercial satellites – could be the difference between having comms and not having comms. Platforms like Hydra are going to give the military the management and control data that they need to make that dream scenario a reality.”
Transparency and control are two challenges that have traditionally stood in the way of an integrated MILSATCOM and COMSATCOM architecture. Hydra is an essential tool for giving the military the transparency and control it needs to better incorporate COMSATCOM into its operations and missions in the future. The platform is cracking open the door to an integrated COMSATCOM and MILSATCOM architecture, which is imperative for the network and software-enabled future of our military.
“Hydra allows them to request, monitor, and orchestrate commercial satellite services within their contract boundaries,” added Katti. “If a military communications satellite is taken offline, being able to orchestrate commercial satellite capacity to fill that void is imperative to meeting an operation’s comms requirements without interruption.”