GOVSATCOM Puts Global MILSATCOM Security In the Spotlight


For decades, space was widely viewed as an uncontested environment for the U.S. and its allies. Today that notion would be considered inconceivable as the domain is now at the heart of nearly every military operation, playing key enabling roles in providing critical communications and connectivity capabilities to militaries across the globe.

“We were playing in an uncontested environment for so long, and we quite frankly, got comfortable operating that way,” said USEUCOM J63 SATCOM NC3’s Eric Kimery at this year’s GOVSATCOM Conference. “We’re paying the price a little bit for that now.”

During the GOVSATCOM session, “Protecting Space Communications – From a Solution’s Perspective,” Kimery joined representatives from Integrasys, SES Space & Defense, and the Luxembourg Directorate of Defense, to delve into what it will take to meet the resiliency, domain awareness, and capability requirements that will ensure the protection and security of MILSATCOM assets in space.

The MILSATCOM Security Groundwork
According to Geoffroy Beaudot, Head of Space for the Luxembourg Directorate of Defense, before global militaries begin identifying solutions for protecting MILSATCOM, there are a few initial considerations that must be made about the space domain.

First, U.S. and allied governments must have a complete understanding of the assets that are operating in the environment. “We need to know what is in space,” said Beaudot. “Space domain awareness is, from my point of view, the starting point.”

But identifying every single satellite is just the tip of the iceberg of space domain awareness, according to Beaudot. Global militaries must go a step further by categorizing these space assets and coming to a complete understanding of each satellite’s vulnerabilities.

After that preliminary work is completed and all risks have been identified, governments can then pivot to adopting systems that can bolster an asset’s security and ensure that vulnerabilities are unable to be exploited by adversarial interference.

The next step to secure MILSATCOM involves being able to identify where interference is coming from and being prepared to react, should it occur. “If you are interfered by something, you need to know where the interference is,” Beaudot pointed out. “A good geolocation system is important in order to know where interference is coming from.”

For Beaudot, the best defense against adversarial satellite interference is having a space architecture that has resiliency baked in via multi-orbit capabilities. “Resiliency is definitely key,” said Beaudot. “What we do in Luxembourg is leveraging O3b mPOWER. Using the MEO constellation with the MEO Global Services (MGS) project provides resilience and access to multi-orbits and protects our satellite communications system.”

Alvaro Sanchez, CEO of Integrasys, echoed Beaudot’s points about domain awareness, identification of asset vulnerabilities, as well as leveraging multi-orbit solutions to thwart adversarial actions in space. He also added that deploying automation security tools throughout MILSATCOM networks could provide increased levels of asset protection.

“As the complexity of networks grows exponentially with new orbits, [mitigating threats] needs to be completely automated,” said Sanchez. “It needs to be driven by an AI machine that helps to mitigate all those threats, while also interconnecting with each other. [Full automation] by having design interconnected with anti-jamming, geolocation interconnected with threat mitigation, while also having observational tools to understand when interference is happening…[will allow us] to react very well.”

Leveraging Government-Industry Partnerships
One of the hats that Kimery wears at the combatant command level within the J-6 is primarily focused on influencing capabilities that are coming into the theater, and the commercial industry is playing a pivotal role in providing those capabilities to the military. “We very recently have had some funding for COMSATCOM,” said Kimery. “What we’ve been trying to do is partner with industry…[to enable] the theater with COMSATCOM…in hopes that the U.S. Space Force can then come in later and leverage that technology or capability and build upon it.”

He explained that the U.S. military is at the point where there is not a single satellite communication system solution that is going to provide the level of persistency to capability on the battlefield when it is needed. A truly resilient space architecture is going to rely on proliferated systems and capabilities that enable PACE plans and multi-orbit solutions to fall back on in the event of adversarial interference.

On the industry side of the partnership equation, SES Space & Defense’s Senior Vice President of Engineering, Nitin Bhat, laid out the commercial industry’s answer to heeding the call for secure and resilient MILSATCOM capabilities.

For Bhat, implementing hardened security standards and guidelines across systems and networks is key to ensuring a resilient and protected space architecture. He pointed to FedRAMP, STIGs (Security Technical Implementation Guides), and RMF (Risk Management Framework) NIST controls as the first lines of defense when trying to balance between cost and risk, quantifying the impact levels of asset vulnerabilities, as well as maintaining a strong security posture.

“When you have a wave form or data that you need to transport, independent of whether it’s virtualized or not, you want to make sure the appliance is locked down from a cyber perspective,” explained Bhat. “A STIG helps you do that. From a security standpoint, it’s important that we have things that are FedRAMP certified and that it’s in the cloud with the right impact levels, so you can maintain the security posture.”

Bhat also pointed to leveraging open architectures to enhance space system security. “[Open architecture] allows you to implement transit FIPS (Federal Information Processing Standards) encryption and also hide in the noise with LPX.”

He also believes that working towards a more hybrid space architecture can better support capabilities that will provide bolstered security and protection to military space systems. “[A hybrid architecture] will help with the PACE plan,” said Bhat. “[Users] can move from one frequency band to the other, or one orbit to the other, or one constellation to the other.”

Moving between frequency bands or orbital planes has become a critical component of secure resilient SATCOM that the commercial space industry has been working hard toward. In a recent interview with the Government Satellite Report, SES Space and Defense’s Vice President of Product Management, Michael Geist, also touched upon the consequential role multi-orbit capabilities are playing in securing military space assets.

“Any application where SATCOM is the primary tether to a remote user’s network is going to benefit from multi-orbit solutions,” said Geist. “Our near-peer adversaries are going to attempt to eliminate our communications options, so as long as we have resilience relative to networks and orbits, then we’ll be in a better position, especially when our warfighters are on the front line. In some cases, SATCOM is the only option they have as far as reach back goes, so resilience is critical.”

To watch the full GOVSATCOM session, “Protecting Space Communications – From a Solution’s Perspective,” click the video below:

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