In Perfect Harmony: A Look Ahead at a “Satcom Enterprise” for 2020 – and Beyond

Little more than a year ago, in December 2018, satellite owner operators gathered with Air Force Space Command leaders in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to talk about the “holy grail” of military communications: a seamless architecture of networked commercial and government satellites.

Little more than a year ago, in December 2018, satellite owner operators gathered with Air Force Space Command leaders in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to talk about the “holy grail” of military communications: a seamless architecture of networked commercial and government satellites.

The network would emerge as a federated architecture of commercial and military satellites with users agnostic about which satellite they are using at any given time. Their satcom terminals would roam across heterogeneous networks just like their mobile phone service, while taking advantage of enhanced modern satcom technologies and “always-on” capabilities, anywhere. This end-to-end capability – undergirded by managed services – is at the heart of the satcom enterprise vision.

Since then, leaders from the Department of Defense (DoD), Congress, and private industry have taken many essential steps to bring us closer to the architecture alluded to in the satcom enterprise vision.

First, the Air Force has drafted an ambitious plan that could fundamentally change how it develops, buys and uses satcom. This plan is expected to identify the next steps and timelines for implementing what is being called “the satcom enterprise,” which would create the aforementioned “holy grail” seamless network of military and commercial communications satellites, accessed by troops, vehicles, ships, and aircraft via ground terminals and mobile receivers that would seamlessly roam from one satellite network to another.

In addition, consistent with statute, DoD and federal agencies have updated their acquisition directives to remove restrictions requiring lowest price technically acceptable (LPTA), which has been the predominant source selection criteria for Commercial Satcom (comsatcom). Most recently in a comment period that ended Dec. 2, 2019, the law would amend the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) to implement a section of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, which states that specific criteria must be met in order to include LPTA source selection conditions in a solicitation; and that procurements predominantly for the acquisition of certain services and supplies must avoid the use of LPTA source selection criteria “to the maximum extent practicable.”

The specific criteria should directly tie to architectural enhancements that the DoD is seeking to improve the resilience and performance of its integrated satcom enterprise. As part of this, the DoD intends to enforce policies which will incrementally merge comsatcom capabilities into the overarching enterprise — a model that merits the wholehearted support of industry.

With these and other developments, we can look ahead to 2020 to gain a clearer understanding of military requirements: to deliver a harmonized satcom enterprise architecture to forces in the field – with terminals that roam between networks the way consumer devices switch providers when they move between overlapping areas of coverage – on a secure network so that their information is always assured. With this, forces will consider optimized satcom connectivity and performance as a “given,” with abundant opportunities to upgrade through capabilities, such as the 5G network, and stay up to date with the latest in cybersecurity tools.

The unified satcom architecture must fully integrate what industry has to offer to provide diverse capabilities that can be easily acquired in a model that allows for ongoing technology innovation while complementing military satellite resources cost effectively.

We believe that the industry Satcom-as-a-Service delivery model represents the critical path toward this fully harmonized integration. This always-on, end-to-end, managed service capability – delivered through a single subscription with committed information rates – inherently incorporates technology advancements, enhanced capabilities, and improved mission assurance. Users simply connect to realize the operational benefits, securely.

Interoperable with military satellite resources, Satcom-as-a-Service presents a resilient, flexible and scalable alternative for the U.S. government, complementing Military Satcom (milsatcom) across narrowband, wideband, and protected tactical satcom. Users leverage comsatcom for core functions, while seamlessly integrating with milsatcom to address any remaining gaps for optimal redundancy, diversity, protection, scalability, and global portability – the ultimate resiliency approach. Currently available, it is an innovative model that liberates users from administering disparate networks so they can focus on mission-critical operations.

Cyber as a managed service also remains a core component of the unified satcom architecture to assure that user communications traverses through a secure network. The architecture includes the satellite and ground segment, as well as terminals type approved to operate on the network. Supported by next-generation command, control, and telemetry encryption with a vigilant mission assurance posture, strong cybersecurity and value-added enhancements are essential to government operations and are a discriminator when choosing services and suppliers.

Moving forward, to ensure such capabilities can be planned and acquired on an ongoing basis, leadership must champion the continuation and funding of a program of record for commercial satcom. It is imperative for future federal budget appropriations to fund for commercial-driven production, operation and sustainment – which will require multiple funding types including Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E), Procurement, as well as Operations and Maintenance (O&M). Air Force and DoD leaders must include this funding in the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) to intentionally and strategically acquire comsatcom as part of this overall architecture, and not as an afterthought.

This kind of strategic planning will lay a foundation of optimal satcom acquisition and employment today and into the future.

For their part, commercial satcom owner operators must continue to share their vision with government leaders and engage in “here is how we can do this better and faster” exchanges. The input of trusted industry partners demonstrating prototypes is essential to mapping – and executing – a path toward a robust, diversified architecture which will constitute real change.

Strong owner operators understand government requirements and invest to deliver capabilities ahead of need. Based upon extensive market research and long-term relationships with the end user community and DoD leadership, those companies make organic, ongoing investments in networks that are interoperable with military satellite systems and include technology advancements, enhanced capabilities, and improved security – all of which are embedded in Satcom-as-a-Service. Users receive all of this – at the speed of need – without upfront budget commitment.

Satcom-as-a-Service – and all that it makes possible – exists today. It is not a “wish list” item or even a partially realized concept. It is readily available now. It is a model that paves a clear path to achieving the satcom enterprise vision by providing globally-accessible, reliable integrated satcom (commercial right alongside milsatcom) that supports military users whenever and wherever required. As we look ahead to what is achievable in 2020, we should aspire to nothing less. VS

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