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Debrief: Takeaways from Satellite 2020

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As the coronavirus pandemic was just beginning to unfold in the United States during the second week of March, SATELLITE 2020 was getting underway at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. While this was a different SATELLITE experience, it was no less informative when it comes to Department of Defense (DoD) SATCOM. In fact, from all that we heard at the show, it is clear to Hughes Defense that the future of DoD SATCOM will include commercial SATCOM innovation.

Lt. Gen. David Thompson, Vice Commander, US Air Force Space Command, calls for industry support

During his keynote presentation, Lt. Gen. David “DT” Thompson explained that the DoD is focused on transforming space to manage today’s contested environment.

He stressed that the DoD and the new Space Force need commercial innovation to continue supporting soldiers as they manage the space domain for critical situational awareness, missile warning and other important missions. As the Space Force defines its priorities, Lt. Gen. Thompson looks to industry to help expand space intelligence and analytical capabilities, with extra focus on addressing new DoD threats. Lt. Gen. Thompson stressed that DoD leaders recognize that today’s R&D advancements come from industry, and they look forward to faster and closer collaboration.

Industry and DoD together can change SATCOM acquisition

During the Space Development Agency and Nontraditional Milsatcom Acquisition panel, moderated by Rick Lober, VP and GM, of Hughes Defense, participants Dr. Derek Tournear, Director, Space Development Agency (SDA); Clare Grason, Chief, Commercial Satellite Communications Office; Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch, Senior Vice President, Inmarsat Government; and Tim Deaver, Director, U.S. Space Systems, Airbus Defense and Space, discussed the many positive steps coming to acquisition to create a more resilient enterprise SATCOM network that provides diversity and flexibility to the warfighter.  Despite these positive steps, panelists agreed that DoD’s SATCOM acquisition process needs to evolve further to strengthen our leadership in the space domain.

Dr. Derek Tournear of SDA described his organization’s plan to create a disruptive architecture that will spiral technology capabilities every two years to bring resilience to the National Defense Space Architecture. SDA is also focused on creating a layered SATCOM architecture in Low Earth Orbit that will include DoD assets as well as commercial assets and technology.

Clare Grason of the Commercial Satellite Communications Office said that her team is focused on keeping the DoD dominant in the space domain. She is working to streamline the fragmented COMSATCOM acquisition process so the DoD will increase readiness using aggregated resources based on Service Level Agreements. This transformation will use the new COMSATCOM program of record and OTAs so the DoD will have more diverse assets that adversaries cannot easily disrupt.  

USAF Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) reiterates the need for more flexible systems

During two SMC-sponsored engineering sessions, Lt. Col. Gary Thompson called attention to how the Air Force works with industry partners to develop an open systems approach to SATCOM network management. He focused on the Flexible Modem Interface (FMI) and Enterprise Management & Control (EM&C). SMC envisions rapid development of capabilities created under the SATCOM Pilot 1 and Pilot 2 efforts, now funded by the EM&C program.

The meetings focused on standardizing the Systems Engineering tasks by adopting a Model-Based Development architecture that uses an advanced Systems Modeling Language (SysML). SysML that will enable standardization and collaboration on the various system interfaces, both for the DoD’s existing network and future interfaces.

The FMI technology will enable data transport across multiple orbits (LEO, MEO and GEO), across multiple bands (X-band, Ku-band, Ka-band, etc...)  and across multiple providers’ constellations to support Mission Operations. EM&C will provide Enterprise Wide Command and Control (C2), Situational Awareness (SA), and Mission Planning system capabilities to enable enhanced control and visibility into the myriad of today’s SATCOM services and platforms.

Altogether, SATELLITE 2020 reinforced the need for greater military and commercial cooperation. Through the new Space Force and new organizations like the SDA, the DoD will maintain ensured access to critical communications and data, from the operating base to the tactical edge and back. As the DoD manages emergencies like today’s coronavirus pandemic as well as new adversaries, Hughes Defense stands ready to support these efforts.