Protecting the Protectors (Part I)
July 13, 2021
By Alan L. Lewis
The mission of the defense industry to equip America’s warfighters with mission-critical technology and solutions to counter existing and emerging threats and protect military personnel, civilians, and vital infrastructure worldwide is no simple task. Accomplishing this salient mission requires industry to push the boundaries of what’s possible offering relevant, innovative, yet practical solutions to meet the rigors of military missions and operations in combat and peaceful environments. Industry must adopt a solution development approach that embodies the current and future needs of the DoD, centered on its strategy/goals, mission/tactics, enemy practices, and warfighter implementation that offers the best assurance for highly effective solutions.
Investing in smarter, more efficient, and operationally safe Satellite Communications (SATCOM) systems is one way to provide for the warfighters’ safety. There are a number of factors to consider to achieve this notion of providing protective measures for our protectors, such as enemy countermeasures, cybersecurity, intelligence, etc. to name a few but let’s focus on another aspect—safety in system-level design. Below are four areas that will enable defense contractors to meet this challenge.
Next Generation SATCOM Antenna Technology: Traditionally, customers have chosen larger SATCOM antennas because of their innate ability to acquire signals; however, the constant trade-off between physical size of the dish versus power output versus bandwidth throughput (especially in Geostationary Orbit (GEO) and Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)) is driving SATCOM systems to be smaller and more power-efficient, while maintaining similar performance. Modern antenna innovations have prompted a shift in thinking regarding the deployment of small aperture antennas to be acceptable, and often preferred, for certain applications. Investigating and developing next generation technology to provide an increased level of warfighter safety by reducing the antenna profile and which requires fewer individuals to operationally deploy the terminal and in a substantially shorter timeframe is needed.
Transport Virtualization Ecosystem: An additional area of next generation technology being actively pursued is the development of a Transport Virtualization Ecosystem where commercial proprietary and DoD-owned modem waveforms are deployed as applications on Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) High Performance Computing (HPC) hardware. This COTS hardware can be simultaneously used for other adjacent transport virtualization applications like encryption (e.g., TRANSEC), intrusion detection/prevention, cyber sensors, WAN optimization, etc., reducing the number of disparate appliance and associated power and cooling resources needed to support network operations.
The underlying technology helps make future communications inherently more resilient and secure through activities like “wave hopping,” which effectively hardens the network against jamming and hacking, making it more difficult for adversaries to interfere with communications. This capability prevents the enemy from detecting and interfering with electronic signals and posing a greater threat to military command and control.
Portable Baseband Data Package: SATCOM systems are often susceptible to heat seeking radio detection and targeting type weapons. Developing the ability to deploy a portable baseband data package with the antenna and locating it up to 150 feet away from the baseband data package via coaxial Interfacility Link (IFL), and even farther via fiber optic IFL, addresses that susceptibility. During training exercises, operators may only need to be a short distance from the baseband, but while in-theater, this capability also keeps the warfighter a safe distance away from the reflector which, because of RF signal emission, is often subject to enemy Direction Finding (DF), or Radio Direction Finding (RDF), and is often the target of air to ground missiles. Warfighters can remotely and safely manage, maintain, operate, and shut down the equipment from either a technical control facility or simply in the field using an optimized Monitor and Control (M&C). The M&C software can be installed on a laptop connected to the baseband equipment up to 300 feet away via ethernet (or further distance away via fiber). Actively evaluating other secure wireless technologies to add greater operational capabilities for stand-off operations will also provide greater safety and flexibility to the warfighter.
Lightning Strike Protection: Because some dangers occur to susceptible SATCOM terminals from natural, environmental events such as lightning strikes, engineering traditional ground rods for stationary solutions that connect the grounding system of electrical components to earth ground or using alternative grounding protection kits for highly mobile SATCOM systems will help prevent damage from natural events. Either solution averts the danger away from SATCOM operators and the system’s baseband equipment.
Let’s face it—accelerated communications requirements in response to ever-evolving enemy tactics, along with the increasing fluidity and complexity of the battlescape, make communications more critical now than ever before. DoD SATCOM systems provide the near instantaneous data exchange between the warfighter and command and control centers contributing to their importance, thus, enabling warfighters to conduct missions safely and reliably.
Stay tuned for blog Part 2 regarding Enemy Countermeasures.
By Alan L. Lewis, CP APMP, Senior Proposal Manager at Envistacom
Contributors also include Dexter Campbell, Director Army and USMC Programs, and Dewell Mitchell, Director of Sales Engineering.