SES CEO on Achieving Sovereign Systems Quickly


Sovereign space, and the ability of governments to hold sovereignty over their assets in the domain, remains a hot topic among the satellite communication (SATCOM) community. During his keynote session at this year’s GOVSATCOM conference in Luxembourg, SES CEO Adel Al-Saleh, addressed topics such as disruption in the industry and why we need to stay ahead of it, the factors currently driving the need for space sovereignty, the challenges that governments are facing in reaching and maintaining sovereignty over their space systems, and how public-private partnerships (PPP) can help foster and amplify government control over SATCOM networks and capabilities.

Al-Saleh explained that international geopolitics have been the compelling forces behind the desire of world governments to achieve sovereignty of their space systems. “There are tensions and races to figure out who can control communications and who can have access to intelligence bifurcations of the world in different political systems,” Al-Saleh explained. “It’s becoming more and more challenging to figure out how do you become sovereign.”

Defense departments around the globe are currently facing significant, not seen before challenges due to the sophistication of kinetic and cyber-attack methods that could drastically impact the availability of their satellite networks. Al-Saleh pointed to the rise of complex cyberattacks as not only a threat to space sovereignty, but also a motivating factor for governments to attain sovereignty over their systems. “It’s harder to detect, and the nature of cybersecurity now is not just about prevention,” explained Al-Saleh. “It’s about how you react to them.”

Governments are now beginning to shift their focus on how they can protect their space assets and the critical data they transmit in a way that prioritizes sovereignty. For Al-Saleh, he views sovereignty in three distinct components.

The three types of sovereignty
The first is technology sovereignty, which – according to Al-Saleh – is rooted in the idea of having a proliferation of connectivity, communications, and networking paths. Sole reliance on a single technology stream can create an incredibly easy target for adversaries to take advantage of.

If a government or military’s primary source for comms or satellite connectivity is taken out through a cyber or jamming attack, it leaves them with no alternative source to fall back on in times of emergency. Having multiple sources and redundant streams for SATCOM can make an adversary’s target radius extremely small, making it more difficult for an attack to have a widespread effect.

The second component of true communication sovereignty, underlined by Al-Saleh, is operational sovereignty. This pertains to the idea that world governments and militaries should not be fully reliant on third parties to have a functional SATCOM architecture. “How do you make sure that you’re not dependent on somebody operating your infrastructure?” asked Al-Saleh. “You have to have control, to be able to access it, and to move from one contract to the other.”

The last dimension of Al-Saleh’s vision for sovereignty is rooted in data protection. Having assurance that a government’s data is secure, protected, and doesn’t get into the hands of adversaries is a driving force behind reaching a state of sovereignty over a nation’s space assets. “Ownership and control of all the data that you need, must be protected,” said Al-Saleh. “How do you do that in this fast-changing world?”

Partner to enable sovereignty and increase resiliency
Al-Saleh pointed to the PPP model as an important enabler to governments making their space sovereignty visions a reality. He cited numerous, successful collaborations between SES and governments as a sign that sovereignty is possible and within reach.

One partnership example that he highlighted was the collaboration between SES and the Luxembourg government which resulted in GovSat being established. Al-Saleh said, “GovSat is a secure SATCOM capability that is entirely dedicated to governments and institutions. We have a satellite and secure mission operations centre delivering a dedicated service using military bands. We also have dedicated gateways and terminals.”

He underlined that this blueprint can be replicated amongst other ally governments and militaries across the globe. “It’s set up so that the satellite connectivity solutions can be shared with other nations,” said Al-Saleh. “This particular solution can be accessed by NATO and Allied nations.”

MEO Global Services (MGS) is another example that Al-Saleh cited as a successful use case enabling space sovereignty. Through MGS, Luxembourg, the United States and NATO will be able to access SES’s latest SATCOM technology O3b mPOWER for defense and security and disaster recovery. “We’re able to offer services that are of the latest technology, jam-resistant, and feature flexibility and scalability. It is a revolutionary setup .”

To make partnerships work, Al-Saleh explained there are some key enablers that must be part of the process. “One is leveraging existing infrastructure,” said Al-Saleh. “There is a tendency to wish to build something new and something dedicated. And with the examples that I just used, there are highly efficient ways to leverage existing infrastructure and deliver the sovereign solution where the government customer has full control.”

It’s also important to make sure security requirements of the participating governments are met and that roles of each party involved – whether private or government sector – are clearly defined.

“When private sector brings innovation, and government supports it with investment, we create something that’s usable for governments and for commercial purposes across the world,” he said.

Finally, speed of execution is key. Faced with the geopolitical realities of today, Al-Saleh said that parties have to move faster to come up with the right solution. “As an industry where paradigms of satellite manufacturing and operations are constantly evolving, we must all embrace these disruptions to propose the right solution for governments. And together, we have to move fast, to stay ahead of disruption.”

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