WASHINGTON — Among the many new products unveiled at this week’s Satellite 2023 conference were mobile communications terminals capable of communicating with military and commercial satellites.
Intellian Technologies introduced a new terminal it co-developed with the US Navy that offers simultaneous connectivity to commercial Ka-band satellites and to the military Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) constellation used by the US and several allies Nations is used.
Another manufacturer, All.Space, announced that it has delivered a new flat-screen terminal to satellite operator SES that can connect to spacecraft in multiple orbits simultaneously. SES plans to offer it to both commercial and DoD users.
Another sector of the industry focused on network management and control systems is working on software that would allow military users to tap into a variety of satcom providers, as well as WGS and other military satellites.
“We’ve been working to enable a hybrid architecture,” said David Meadows, vice president of Network Innovations US
Meadows and other executives at the Satellite 2023 conference said the industry is trying to support the DoD’s vision of a seamless military-commercial satcom architecture, an effort that has been underway for several years.
A key project designed to enable a hybrid network is the US Space Force-led Enterprise Management and Control (EM&C) system, which aims to provide military users with flexible satcom options so that they can switch to another in the event of one service disruption can change.
Meadows’ company, Network Innovations, is developing a prototype satellite communications service provider (SPR) register, or catalog of military and commercial terminals and services, in support of the EM&C project.
“Enterprise-wide satcom management and control I think is going to be critical as we try to bring together all the different service provider networks,” DoD Satcom chief Mike Dean said during a March 14 panel discussion the satellite conference.
In the latest DoD satcom policy, Dean said, “we try to make no distinction between commercial and military or even international affiliated services.”
The catalog of terminals and services being developed under the EM&C program will give operations managers a “better picture of how to manage their capabilities,” Dean said.
DoD wants to work with a large number of commercial satcom providers, he said. “The more the merrier, it builds resilience,” added Dean. “And the real benefit, at least when I look at the whole business, is that commercial services innovate at such a faster cycle than what we can do internally.”
The Deanery recently published a “Reference Architecture” to help industry and government program offices figure out how systems can be integrated.
Diversity means more complexity
Meadows said hybrid networks benefit the military because they “disrupt our adversaries in their attempts to impede us or compromise our locations.”
However, “variety and abundance come at a price. And I think cost is complexity,” he said. The challenge is to use autonomous systems as much as possible to make it easy for users in the field.
Military leaders often remind satcom contractors that “top tactical operators don’t wear white coats and don’t have PhDs. So we want to give them access to a wide range of satellite services to give them resiliency and redundancy and handle congestion with just a few clicks of the mouse.”
Meadows said the EM&C architecture is designed to work with any commercial vendor, but the devil is in the details.
“We want to enable all potential service providers … LEO, MEO, GEO, all frequency bands, different waveforms,” and connect systems with current end devices as much as possible, he said. However, a closed architecture like SpaceX’s Starlink requires the use of the company’s terminals.
“A key question we looked at is how do we future-proof the system design” so that new systems can be integrated as soon as they come online, Meadows said.
Satcom managed services
In parallel with the efforts of the satcom companies, the US Space Force’s Commercial Services Office is attempting to purchase so-called satcom as a managed service, an approach favored by many satellite operators. Rather than leasing capacity from commercial satellites, managed Satcom services give military customers a guaranteed data rate based on their needs and location.
Craig Miller, president of satellite operator Viasat Government Systems, said DoD would be better off using managed satcom services to take advantage of the latest technology.
“All modern networks are operated as managed services, as opposed to leased transponders,” he said. Services from the latest constellations are provided as managed services “where you don’t buy transponders, you buy bits per second or you buy a specific data rate,” he said. “And that really is a much better value for consumers.”
When the President’s Air Force One buys a 100 megabits per second managed service, “you always get that data rate. And we guarantee this data rate. But if you don’t use it, it’s not wasting capacity.”
“All new systems are managed services,” Miller said. “And so DOD has to learn how to buy.”
He said the Marine Corps and Army have launched pilot programs to evaluate managed satcom services from Viasat and other companies. “So we’re starting to see movement in that direction. And that’s how you buy advertising.”