The United States Navy has long been at the forefront of new technologies and IT. The Navy’s consolidated IT networks are a technological marvel, functioning as both an administrative network and a warfighting tool.
But relying on network capabilities out at sea creates challenges. Navy ships don’t sail around the world with large cables connecting them back to the networks on land. That means satellite solutions are necessary to connect Navy platforms distributed across the globe to the networks, systems and applications that are necessary for accomplishing their mission.
The requirements that Navy platforms put on satellite solutions and networks is shifting as its IT capabilities and applications evolve. Also, new, more advanced adversaries are increasingly capable of denying satellite communications through interference, jamming and even kinetic attacks. This has created created a need for new solutions that can offer additional resiliency in the face of an increasingly contested space domain.
To learn more about the Navy’s demands and the new satellite technologies that can help to fill them, we sat down with Paul Damphousse, the Senior Director for Business Development at SES GS. Here is what he had to say:
Government Satellite Report (GSR): According to Breaking Defense, the President and Naval leaders are looking to bolster the Navy fleet and ensure that it’s ready and prepared to face our increasingly sophisticated adversaries. Does a larger fleet impact existing networks? Does an expanded fleet require additional throughput and connectivity?
Paul Damphousse (PD): The answer to both of those questions is, “yes.” Ultimately, the more platforms that you have, the more demand that you’re going to have for additional throughput. That means more bandwidth is going to be required.
Even beyond that – even beyond the sheer number of platforms – the requirements for throughput by themselves are increasing. That has a lot to do with where technology is going in general, where the demands of our naval leaders are going and where our required capabilities are going.
GSR: Let’s explore that further. What network enabled capabilities is the Navy looking to enable? How do these new capabilities increase demand for throughput and bandwidth?
PD: Sure. Those new capabilities include the ability to do video teleconferencing (VTC), download large files, and the ability to monitor multiple high definition video streams simultaneously – just to name a few. Everyone expects higher throughputs and lower latencies and faster speeds, whether it’s for logistics backhaul, operations, or simple comms.
Take – for example – situations where the Navy is employing direct, tactical kinetic strikes. The Navy and Marine Corps are employing tactical ISR platforms that are always overhead before, during and after strikes. Those platforms are becoming more ubiquitous and part of our concepts of operations (CONOPS). Throughput and bandwidth are required to move those video images back to command and control nodes where decisions are being made.
Also, we’re increasingly operating in what is sometimes referred to as an anti-access/area denial (A2AD) environment, where ships must operate in and around a denied battlespace. Some of our potential adversaries now have long-range, stand-off weapons which can hold our maritime assets at risk far off-shore. In these instances, takes you past line of sight and out of direct communications range for these ISR and targeting solutions. That pushes you beyond line-of-sight where SATCOM becomes a better solution.
Finally, more and more maritime systems are becoming network-enabled. In addition to our traditional manned ships, submarines, and aircraft, the Navy is incorporating new unmanned semi-autonomous and autonomous platforms. All that data has to move throughout the battlespace or backhauled to operations centers. This creates two-way requirements for high throughput, lower latency connections that can only be met with satellite.
GSR: Why is SATCOM – especially the new MEO and HTS SATCOM solutions – a good solution for filling these bandwidth requirements?
PD: HTS makes use of frequency reuse, enabling you to use beam cells and reuse the frequencies fairly close to one another. And that enables incredibly high throughput. These HTS satellites are sitting in GEO orbit and have the same latency as other systems, however, their throughput is much higher.
When we talk about our medium earth orbit (MEO) constellation [formerly known as O3b], we’re discussing satellites that are closer to the Earth, in a lower orbit. At our operating attitude of 8000km or roughly 500 miles when can attain latencies as low 150 ms and throughputs as high as 1.6 Gbps.
That allows you to do things like ISR and targeting with rich, high definition, potentially 4K video that gives you a much more granular picture of the battlespace. A GEO link is up to half a second or more of latency – in a tactical environment, that’s sometimes far too much latency to make real time decisions.
Just to reiterate, our MEO satellites are considered HTS satellites. They offer the higher throughput of an HTS satellite, but they’re also in a lower orbit and have lower latency, as well.
GSR: Adversaries of today and tomorrow will be more sophisticated and capable than adversaries of the past – with the potential to deny our military SATCOM connectivity through kinetic attacks on satellites and jamming. How do these MEO and HTS solutions deliver resiliency and mission assurance in space in the face of these threats?
PD: Admittedly, our space systems have some vulnerabilities today that didn’t have in the past. The paradigm has shifted with more state and non-actors able to adversely impact our space assets. Space is now viewed as a contested environment as opposed to the virtual sanctuary that it once was. So when you have a vulnerabilities in your architecture, it’s generally not a good idea to put all of your eggs in one basket.
There are a number of military satellites and communications systems that the military makes use of. If those systems are compromised or degraded in some fashion, that could have a direct impact on operations.
But, when you diversify beyond the traditional government systems – and add a full suite of systems from commercial providers across multiple different orbits and bandwidth – that builds inherent resiliency into the system. In that environment, the government has a full suite of solutions and services to choose from should any part of the architecture be compromised.
In the case of our MEO constellation individual spot beams are both steerable and have relatively discreet footprints on the Earth. For interference or jamming to occur, the interferer or jammer would need to know where that beam was pointed and the ephemeris data of the satellite. If they figure out both of those things – which is pretty tough – the beam can just be steered in such a way as to null the jammer or interferer.
When you look at it holistically – having a suite of different solutions, different orbits, different bandwidths, and having these capabilities that are inherently difficult to interfere with or jam – the military can greatly improve their resiliency by embracing these solutions from commercial satellite providers.
GSR: What has the reaction been like to HTS and MEO solutions across the military?
PD: We’ve had a variety of customers and military decision makers come through the teleport here in Virginia and get a demo of the capabilities that HTS and MEO can provide. They’ve also toured our ops center to see these solutions in action. We have conducted multiple MEO demonstrations aboard ships and in maritime environments as well.
Interestingly, the Marine Corps has been one of the most interested military organizations. We feel that MEO can be an enabler of new, advanced capabilities for Marine Corps expeditionary forces, and they agree. We had an incredible and positive reaction to our MEO demonstrations at the recent Modern Day Marine Expo in Quantico, VA.
What’s even more exciting is that there is more MEO capacity coming online that the military can utilize in the very near future. SES has four more MEO satellites being launched next spring – and then four more satellites being launched by the end of next. That’s an additional 80 beams that will be available for military use soon.
To learn more about the benefits of MEO and HTS satellites for maritime environments download the following resources: