In a keynote address at the 2022 I/ITSEC Conference, General David W. Allvin, the Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, told attendees, “…none of us is as smart as all of us. And the situation we find ourselves in – this country – is going to require just the very best of us all.”
Gen. Allvin’s sentiment was an eloquent way to say that the U.S. military will need to work as a single unit and not disparate services – and will need to work hand-in-hand with coalition and industry partners – if it’s going to be victorious in the battles of the future.
This is not the first time we’ve heard a senior leader from one of America’s military branches discuss the need for collaboration to ensure success against the near-peer adversaries of tomorrow. This has been one of the fundamental cornerstones of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) as it builds its future force for the year 2030 and beyond.
However, collaboration, integration, and interoperability in one domain, in particular, have long been a challenge for the military. In space, where allied and industry partners each bring their own constellations of spacecraft and ground networks, getting everything to work together remains a challenge. And that challenge only grows more significant as the space domain continues to evolve from a benign domain into a warfighting domain.
To learn more about the need for interoperable space and ground networks as joint multi-domain operations become essential, we recently sat down with Ram Rao, the Director of Business Development Engineering, Technologies, and Solutions at SES Space & Defense. During our discussion, we asked Ram about the challenges that an austere space domain creates for the DoD, the technological challenges that the military faces when trying to integrate satellite networks with coalition and industry partners, and what some industry leaders are doing to make the seamless management of unified global networks a possibility for our military.
Government Satellite Report (GSR): It’s apparent that the battles of tomorrow will cross domains – requiring capabilities to be delivered from the space and cyber domains to joint warfighters from the U.S. and its allies on land, in the air, and at sea. How do military networks become more complex and complicated when the space domain and space capabilities are added to the equation?
Ram Rao: Correct. The U.S. DoD’s JADC2 framework is all about our warfighters and decision-makers from every service area – such as the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, National Guard, and now the Space Force – participating in and sharing quality data to make effective and timely decisions before our adversaries can act. Of course, this seems easy at a high level, but it’s very complicated to implement, albeit required.
It is not a secret anymore that our adversaries – especially China and Russia – have been advancing and testing their space and cyber war capabilities in the last few years. In fact, they’ve been developing and testing these capabilities aggressively in the space domain over the past year.
We have read about anti-satellite (ASAT) tests conducted by Russia and China that resulted in the destruction of satellites in orbit. We also have witnessed China grabbing its satellite from the GEO orbit and maneuvering into a graveyard orbit. It is obvious they are preparing and testing various capabilities that can enable them to deny our nation’s access to satellite connectivity. Capabilities like these have turned space from a benign environment into a warfighting domain.
Warfighting in domains such as land, water, and air has existed for a long time. There have been hundreds or thousands of strategies and tactics developed in these domains that have evolved. The space domain is a new warfighting domain, and defensive and offensive capabilities are still being developed and tested.
“…the interaction between different networks is not as integrated, automated, or seamless. It’s often done through the direct interfacing of circuits with VPN or HTTPS connections. Or lower-tech, less efficient methods are utilized – such as email, DVD, or paper.” – Ram Rao
Also, in space, there are no area limits or rules. The traditional warfighting domains have rules of engagement and occur in space-restricted arenas. Space is huge, there are no established rules of engagement, and the capabilities are still evolving. This makes the space domain much more complicated.
GSR: What impact does the introduction of commercial satellite services have on the resiliency and assuredness of space capabilities?
Ram Rao: The DoD figured out long ago that the commercial industry and the integration of COMSATCOM services into their MILSATCOM solutions is crucial for mission-critical capabilities. I believe that integrating LEO, MEO, and GEO capabilities from the U.S. military, allied militaries, and commercial partners is a massive deterrent to our adversaries.
These capabilities tremendously increase our resiliency in space and on the ground, making it difficult for adversaries to deny our satellite capabilities. The high speed, high bandwidth, low latency, and pole-to-pole coverage that COMSATCOM can provide is unparalleled and well-positioned for integration with MILSATCOM.
GSR: What challenges does the added complexity of integrating multiple satellite resources and services create from a network transparency, assurance, and management standpoint?
Ram Rao: There are multiple challenges. But the government and its industry partners are well aware of these challenges and are working collaboratively to solve them.
When we say COMSATCOM and MILSATCOM, we’re not just referring to two disparate networks. We are talking about hundreds, if not thousands, of disparate networks that need to be integrated worldwide.
“The DoD figured out long ago that the commercial industry and the integration of COMSATCOM services into their MILSATCOM solutions is crucial for mission-critical capabilities. I believe that integrating LEO, MEO, and GEO capabilities from the U.S. military, allied militaries, and commercial partners is a massive deterrent to our adversaries.” – Ram Rao
Network transparency, assurance, and management require agreed-up visibility and a standardized network interface. For example, the U.S. Space Force Enterprise Management & Control (EM&C) system requires network management systems from different DoD and commercial networks to be integrated at different levels.
That is a challenging task. Every participating COMSATCOM network may not follow the same standards. Also, when we start integrating the satellite capabilities of allied and coalition nations, we have to expect that different countries may follow different standards.
Assurance requirements for all countries are not the same. It’s difficult to ensure that various networks align on multiple requirements, including access levels. However, leading COMSATCOM industry players like SES Space & Defense have the infrastructure, capability, and experience necessary to integrate and operate as a part of a global military network.
GSR: How is the visualization and management of the whole military network – including military and commercial space assets and capabilities – done today? What tools exist that enable the military to see and manage everything?
Ram Rao: Most individual networks with their network management systems (NMS) have required visualization and management capabilities. However, the interaction between different networks is not as integrated, automated, or seamless. It’s often done through the direct interfacing of circuits with VPN or HTTPS connections. Or lower-tech, less efficient methods are utilized – such as email, DVD, or paper.
“The U.S. DoD’s JADC2 framework is all about our warfighters and decision-makers from every service area…participating in and sharing quality data to make effective and timely decisions before our adversaries can act. Of course, this seems easy at a high level, but it’s very complicated to implement, albeit required.” – Ram Rao
Not only is this laborious, but it doesn’t move at the pace of battle. Speed of delivery – especially during warfighting times – is a top priority for every military decision-maker.
A number of tools and platforms are being developed and introduced across the industry that provides a unified view of the network. Solutions such as the Information & Communications Technology (ICT) Portal, recently introduced by SES Space & Defense provides transparent and consolidated network visibility improving performance and operational decision-making.
Featured image: U.S. Soldiers from the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, set up a Satellite Transportable Terminal (STT) system at Orzysz, Poland. The STT is an optimized, over-the-horizon communications system ideally suited for tactical communications missions. (U.S. Army photos by Charles Rosemond, Training Support Team Orzysz)