DoD, Industry Tackle Connectivity and Comms Challenges at SATCOM Workshop


In modern warfighting, the space domain plays a critical role in the delivery of reliable connectivity and resilient communications to operations executed on the ground, in the air, and at sea. Over the last decade, U.S. adversaries have made major advancements in their space capabilities and have proven to be a growing threat to the nation’s advantage in the domain.

To stay ahead of the threat, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is collaborating with its commercial space partners to ensure that warfighters are provided with satellite services and capabilities designed to outmaneuver and outlast the adversary. Last December, I had the opportunity to attend the DoD Commercial SATCOM Workshop, a special event – hosted by U.S. Space Command – where military and satellite industry leaders came together and tackled some of the DoD’s most pressing satellite communication (SATCOM) challenges, including how to ensure resilient connectivity and assured comms throughout special operations and warfighting missions.

DoD’s SATCOM Goals
One goal that the DoD is looking to achieve is quickly ramping up SATCOM services for special operations within hours of deployment. But with adversaries deploying space capabilities designed to degrade and deny connectivity and comms to the warfighter, the DoD wants to ensure that special operations SATCOM services are backed up with spectrum agility. When warfighting missions become more agile spectrum-wise, it becomes increasingly difficult for an adversary to narrow down its attack calculus.

Another goal that the DoD is getting after is to provide warfighters with SATCOM services that support multi-path communications in remote locations or extreme environments that lack terrestrial networks. Leveraging multi-path comms when executing operations in austere environments helps to ensure redundant, uninterrupted communications in the event an adversary was to breach, degrade, or deny any level of a mission’s PACE Plan.

Industry Answers the Call
A solution that the commercial industry is ready to put forward to support the DoD’s spectrum agility and multi-path comms goals is multi-orbit SATCOM. Providing the DoD with access to multi-orbit services that can switch spectrums mid-mission would ensure that warfighters are supported with resilient connectivity options and redundant communications pathways. Multi-orbit satellite capabilities would also give the military a competitive advantage in the space domain by making it increasingly difficult for adversaries to target and degrade an operation’s connectivity and comms services.

Last March, SES Space & Defense, Hughes, and ThinKom, successfully demonstrated these multi-orbit SATCOM capabilities. Together, the three companies proved their ability to effectively roam between SES’s satellite networks in Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) and Geostationary Orbit (GEO).

When executing warfighting operations, if it becomes clear that an adversary is attempting to jam or attack a mission-critical satellite, having the flexibility to transfer mission services and capabilities over to another satellite in a different orbit guarantees connectivity resiliency and comms redundancy.

DoD Adopts Multi-Orbit Services
The DoD has taken notice of these multi-orbit solutions and plans to integrate them into its communications architecture. Last September, it was announced that the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory awarded SES Space & Defense with a multi-year contract to conduct tests to integrate space broadband services across a multi-orbit satellite network that would support the Defense Experimentation Using Commercial Space Internet (DEUCSI) program. The DEUCSI program intends to leverage commercial space internet (CSI) constellations with the ability to alternate between Geostationary (GEO), Medium Earth Orbit (MEO), and Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites.

“An integrated multi-orbit, multi-band satellite architecture is a requirement in today’s contested and congested environment,” said Jim Hooper, SES Space & Defense’s Senior Vice President of Space Initiatives. “The DEUCSI program is a great example to showcase…multi-orbit, multi-band holistic approaches to deliver seamless interoperability to the U.S. Air Force to achieve unparalleled situation awareness and strategic advances for mission success.”

Last September, the DoD made another step towards adopting and integrating multi-orbit services when the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) awarded indefinite delivery indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contracts to satellite operators and integrators – including SES Space & Defense – for Proliferated Low Earth Orbit (PLEO) satellite services. Embracing PLEO services will deliver resiliency and assuredness benefits to DISA by having satellite capabilities that are both multi-band and multi-orbit.

“Today, the military is facing near-peer adversaries that have demonstrated their ability to disrupt, deny, and degrade our communications networks,” said Ben Pigsley, Senior Vice President of Defense Networks at SES Space & Defense. “Both multi-orbit and multi-band network solutions offer an elevated level of resiliency and increase availability to government customers.”

Events like the DoD Commercial SATCOM Workshop provide the private sector with opportunities to learn about the military’s top satellite and space challenges directly from DoD leadership. As the military and industry continue to foster this open dialogue, the private sector will be better equipped to redirect its attention and efforts toward developing and producing SATCOM solutions and services to support the DoD in reaching its goals.

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