Military discusses defending SATCOM at Space Symposium

The SES Space and Defense team recently had the opportunity to attend the 31st Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado. This annual conference brings together representatives from the satellite industry with individuals from private enterprise and government responsible for the purchase of satellite solutions and services.

The Space Symposium has continued to see an increase in the number of federal government attendees, post the sequester activities of the U.S. Government. The show has also seen a continued increase in the number of international government attendees. This year was certainly not an exception, as a new record was set for attendance.

During our time at this year’s conference, we had the opportunity to sit down with decision makers from the U.S. military and representatives from U.S. agencies and foreign governments to discuss their pain points, challenges and satellite needs. Although there were many trends and topics that were discussed, one common theme across the conference – and our many conversations – was a need to be prepared for opposition from our adversaries to access to space and space capabilities.

Our military’s reliance on satellites at the tip of the spear is well known by our adversaries. Unfortunately, an increasingly large number of nation states have the ability to negatively impact these essential satellites.

A common discussion at the conference centered around the fact that – today – even small nation states can launch cyberattacks against satellites or jam satellites to negatively impact our military’s ability to operate and collaborate on the ground. What’s worse, our adversaries have also repeatedly demonstrated their ability to impact military satellite communications through direct and hostile ballistic attacks on the satellites, themselves.

To help protect communications during wartime, the U.S. military has a constellation of hardened Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) and MILSTAR satellites that offer anti-jam and low-probability-of-intercept capabilities and are capable of withstanding most attacks. These satellites are extremely expensive and only used for senior level military decision makers in critical situations. The Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) network – which will be comprised of ten total satellites – is used to provide the military’s wideband satellite communications needs.

In April, representatives from the satellite industry, and individuals from private enterprise and government responsible for the purchase of satellite solutions and services came together at the annual Space Symposium.
In April, representatives from the satellite industry, and individuals from private enterprise and government responsible for the purchase of satellite solutions and services came together at the annual Space Symposium.

Unfortunately, this creates challenges when dealing with adversaries in space. If an adversary was looking to attack or otherwise negatively influence a satellite, it’s easy to target one of ten known WGS satellites. Also, you can confidently attack that satellite and only negatively impact your enemy.

This is where commercial SATCOM can help.

Working with commercial SATCOM providers, military communications can be split amongst a larger constellation of satellites, making it much harder to identify which satellite to attack. The probability that an attack impacts the correct satellite is – by nature – much lower. Also, since commercial SATCOM providers utilize their satellites for multiple, different customers, any attack to a satellite could have significant multinational impact.

For example, an attack to a commercial SATCOM provider’s satellite could impact your enemy’s military communications – or it could effectively destroy all Internet connectivity and satellite television access for citizens of one of your allies. After all, nothing damages relations between allied nations than accidentally causing an entire country to miss a World Cup Football match.

Ultimately, utilizing commercial SATCOM to supplement the military’s existing satellite network can create a more resilient architecture that offers greater diversity and a multinational satellite capability.

However, that wasn’t the only solution that military leaders and commercial SATCOM providers were discussing at this year’s conference. Another hot topic was the emergence of the protected tactical wave form.

New protected tactical wave form technologies are more difficult to both jam and intercept, making them more secure than standard unprocessed and unprotected satellites. Although not as secure, they’re cheaper than the military’s AEHF satellites, making them more accessible for providing and protecting the signal for the warfighter down to the individual soldier, instead of being limited to Battalion levels and higher. The terminals for the protected tactical wave form are also usable across both military and commercial SATCOM, which enables the military to communicate across a wider ecosystem of satellites.

The new protected tactical wave form technologies are still in development, but exciting advancements are being made. And – if our discussions at the Space Symposium are any indication – their eventual arrival is greatly anticipated by the military and commercial SATCOM providers, alike.

This year’s Space Symposium was the largest ever – and for good reason. Satellite communications are increasingly essential for military operational effectiveness. And with that increased reliance on satellite communications comes a new focus on impacting and disrupting satellites by our adversaries. However, with new technologies and an increasing utilization of commercial SATCOM, the military can be sure that their mission-critical communications remain safe and secure.

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