How Flexible Contracts and Multi-Layer Networks Deliver SATCOM Resiliency


Over the last decade, near-peer competitors of the United States have been aggressively pursuing a militaristic agenda in the space arena. According to SES Space & Defense’s Vice President of Space and National Security Initiatives, Todd Gossett, Russia and China’s actions and presence in space have sent a clear message that the domain is no longer a benign environment. A part of the U.S. response to this growing threat was the formation of the U.S. Space Force and the re-establishment of U.S. Space Command to field and employ capabilities designed to protect the nation’s assets in the domain and enable joint warfighting on the ground.

According to Gossett, U.S. SATCOM networks are used to provide command and control, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) backhaul, beyond line-of-sight communications, and the projection of military forces on the ground. But those SATCOM capabilities are currently under threat and have become the prime target of adversarial action.

At last month’s SATELLITE 2024 conference, Gossett moderated a panel discussion with representatives from the U.S. Space Force, the U.S. Navy, Lockheed Martin, and Intelsat, examining the role multi-layer networks can and will play in establishing resilient and reliable SATCOM services that can withstand adversarial attacks.

Gossett explained that the MILSATCOM community and the commercial industry are currently working together to develop multi-orbit and multi-demand solutions that will enable resiliency. “We’ve got the demand side, with the military needing a resilient set of solutions to ensure SATCOM survives deep into the fight,” said Gossett. “On the supply side, we’ve had GEO high-throughput for quite a while. And in the last decade we’ve had MEO high-throughput with SES’ O3b mPOWER, and now we have the rise of LEO.”

Though the demand and supply sides are clearly defined, according to Gossett the challenge now lies in how to stitch these solutions and capabilities together.

Lockheed Martin’s Portfolio Director of Transport Layer Programs, Adrián Cuadra, agreed that integration solutions, capabilities, and networks are key to achieving the resiliency that multi-layer networks can provide to the military. “We cannot rely on having a single network, single capability, or a single layer that performs the mission for us,” said Cuadra. “The multi-layer network and the multi-layer transport…is an interwoven set of network elements that work together.”

Cuadra went on to say that reaching resilient SATCOM will rely on orbital and path diversity that can synthesize data across the tapestry of networks to provide a common operating picture to decision-makers. “Ultimately, [the goal is] to deliver that assured information to the warfighter, wherever and whenever they need it,” he said.

If the commercial industry’s role is to provide the tapestry of networks and systems, what role does the government and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) play in making these SATCOM resiliency capabilities a reality? According to Clare Hopper, Chief of the Space Force’s Commercial Satellite Communications Office (CSCO), the answer lies in the way the DoD is now facilitating its COMSATCOM contracts to match the pace of industrial innovation.

“[CSCO] is the hub for all things commercial SATCOM,” said Hopper. “As the industry is evolving, we are staying pace by setting up contracts that have the flexibility and scope to facilitate readiness and responsiveness across the globe.”

Hopper explained that the changes the DoD has made with its contracts have opened doors to fully realizing a multi-layer network that fosters resilient and reliable SATCOM. “We’ve made a lot of positive improvement by putting in place more open-ended, flexible contracts that our customers are taking advantage of,” said Hopper. “What comes to mind is our Proliferated Low Earth Orbit (PLEO) contract that was awarded back in July…Our existing PLEO contract enables multi-orbit solutions.”

And indeed, partnerships between the DoD and commercial industry – like the indefinite delivery indefinite quantity (IDIQ) PLEO contract that Hopper cited – have not only strengthened the SATCOM capabilities that are being delivered to the DoD’s disparate commands and services, but they are also opening the door to a more integrated, resilient space architecture for the Joint Forces.

Through the PLEO contract, satellite operators like SES Space & Defense, as well as satellite integrators, are able to usher the DoD into a new age of SATCOM, where DoD decision-makers can leverage new orbits, frequency bands, and waveforms to ensure the redundancy of mission-critical communications and connectivity resources.

As the space domain becomes further contested, with adversaries demonstrating abilities to disrupt, deny, and degrade U.S. comms networks, the DoD must continue to embrace multi-layer and multi-orbit SATCOM through flexible contracts like the IDIQ PLEO award. By doing so, the DoD and its satellite networks will automatically elevate their levels of resiliency and redundancy, and will be able to execute missions and operations uninterrupted by adversarial attack.

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