Exploring Army SATCOM requirements post WIN-T in advance of AUSA

Each year, the Association of the United States Army gets together in early fall to discuss some of the largest and most impactful trends and challenges facing America’s oldest military branch. This annual event is an opportunity to bring Army and military decision makers and influencers together with industry thought leaders to share best practices and identify new solutions for the problems facing the Army.

This year’s upcoming AUSA Conference comes at a very interesting time for the service. Last year, the Army made the decision to effectively “pull the plug” on the next iteration of its WIN-T IT infrastructure and network for a myriad of reasons. The Army also announced a new, innovative approach to acquisition, which involved the creation of “Cross Functional Teams.”

Simultaneously, the Army is facing many of the same challenges that we heard discussed by the Air Force at the recent AFA Air, Space and Cyber Conference. The adversaries that the military needs to prepare for today are different than what we were focused on for the previous two decades – with near-peer adversaries once more a concern.

With so much change and so many large problems to tackle, this year’s conference is practically guaranteed to generate some interesting discussion and shed some light on the future direction and strategy of the Army. To get a preview of what could be the main points of discussion when it comes to Army networks and satellite requirements, we sat down with Army veteran, military satellite expert and the current Vice President of Government Programs at SES Government Solution, Bill Reiner.

Here is what Bill had to say:

Government Satellite Report (GSR): The annual AUSA meeting and expo is coming up in early October. What do you expect out of this year’s meeting? What do you think will be some of the most consequential topics and issues discussed?

Bill Reiner: One of the things I’m most anticipating and expecting is a report out from the CFTs (Cross Functional Teams). These CFTs were created in early October – right around AUSA 2017 – of last year, and each team is responsible for something different. There are six total teams, one each for:

  • Long-Range Precision Fires (LRPF)
  • Next Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV)
  • Future Vertical Lift (FVL)
  • Network
  • Precision Navigation & Timing (PNT)
  • Air & Missile Defense (AMD)
  • Soldier Lethality (SL)

Each of these CFTs rolls up into Army Futures Command, which is dedicated to helping modernize the Army, and is aimed at helping the Command identify products and solutions more quickly. The end goal is to enable the Army, as a whole, to acquire solutions in response to adversaries and requirements more quickly.

We’ve already heard some reports out of the Soldier Lethality group focused on longer range missiles. However, we haven’t heard much out of the other CFTs. With AUSA being held at around the one-year anniversary of their creation, I’d expect to hear more about the findings from the CFTs, and some feedback regarding their overall results and effectiveness.

GSR: Often when we talk about the military’s use of satellite, we think about the Air Force, since the space domain currently falls into their area of responsibility. How does the Army utilize satellites? What different capabilities and use cases are powered by satellite for the Army?

Bill Reiner: When it comes to the Army’s use of satellites, you really only have to think about their mission and their structure. If you look at the warfighting functions of the Army – every one of them requires communications. Also, the Army’s personnel are extremely distributed and spread out, which means that communications relies on satellite across all warfighting functions.

Satellite is essential for Command and Control (C&C) within the Army. Intelligence data needs to be transmitted and received at the edge. That requires the ability to pass large files to the edge, and that’s best done via satellite. This is essential if Army commanders are going to know what’s happening on the battlefield and reinforce soldierss as needed. This is also essential for the transmission of large GEOINT files, which are necessary for coordinating and planning troop movements.

Then there are other use cases for satellite within the Army that don’t often get mentioned or thought of. Take sustainment as an example – every logistics and maintenance unit needs a satellite system to access maintenance data, order spare parts, research vehicle maintenance issues, report issues to superiors and otherwise stay connected. If a maintenance team needs tires for a truck, or needs to schedule a refueling stop, the order will be placed and stops will be coordinated via satellite.

Satellite is essential for the Army now, and its importance will only increase in time. Future wars will have intense electronic warfare environments. Satellite allows the Army to operate in those environments globally. That’s especially true with the new generations of satellite that are inherently capable of overcoming jamming and are harder to deny or compromise.

GSR: Last year, the Army announced they were scuttling their investment in the beleaguered WIN-T Increment 2 network and evaluating other options. Why was this decision made?

Bill Reiner: The decision [to terminate WIN-T Increment 2] was made because the Army looked at their mission and what was happening in the world. We are now facing a threat from near-peer adversaries again in the form of Russia and China. These powerful adversaries are threatening our national security and building their military capabilities. With this more sophisticated threat, the Army realized that their networks simply couldn’t hold up.

Also – speaking anecdotally – I have seen through my own personal experience, and through the experience of my son in the Army National Guard, that communications via the existing network were hard to do.

The problem has always come down to the fact that it takes too long for the Army to field new solutions. If it takes a decade to pull together networks, the technology is now archaic. They need to more quickly identify the need, identify the solution and get that solution into the field. In the past, it has taken the Army three years to identify a requirement and then an additional seven years to field the solution – and then it’s no longer state of the art.

The CFTs were put in place to help overcome this. They’re designed to accomplish this by bringing together all of the stakeholders and decision makers under one command. This gets everyone responsible for making acquisition decisions in one place and keeps them engaged with the warfighter to develop what they need more quickly.

With the CFTs, the resourcing, costing and acquisition authority is all there in one spot. This concept was implemented with the intention of bringing the acquisition cycle time down. This enables the CFT to more quickly do technical demonstrations and pilot programs, and more rapidly make decisions to move the Army forward.

GSR: What role do you anticipate satellite – particularly commercial satellite – playing in the next generation Army network? What would make commercial satellite an invaluable part of Army networks moving forward?

Bill Reiner: Ultimately, commercial satellites are critical to supporting Army missions because they provide surge capabilities and fill that essential satellite role when military satellite solutions aren’t available or are depleted. But there are other reasons why commercial SATCOM will be in the Army’s future plans.

The commercial SATCOM industry has proven its ability to enable the military to bring new satellite technology to the user much more quickly. Speed of acquisition and deployment has always been an issue for the Army, commercial satcom helps to overcome that.

Commercial SATCOM providers are constantly innovating and integrating new satellite and new terminal technology that’s easier to use, smaller, lighter and offers more capability. By partnering with industry providers for their satcom requirements, the Army effectively reaps the rewards and benefits from this new technology immediately, instead of having to build and launch these new technologies themselves.

Also, with the move towards managed services across the satellite industry, the Army can get access to  this new technology as part of a managed service. In this format, everything necessary to connect disparate parties within the Army is provided – including ground terminals and antennas – as a recurring fee. With satellite managed services, the Army and other military branches could get access to advanced satellite technologies – including new waveforms that are more jam resistant – much more quickly and at lower cost.

Regardless of what the next generation of Army networks look like, commercial satellite providers are the key to unlocking advanced satellite capabilities and technologies, and bringing their benefits to soldiers more quickly and efficiently.

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