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ON TARGET - Meeting The Warfighter’s Growing Needs
by Rick Lober, G.M., DISD, Hughes Network Systems

The men and women of today’s U.S. military, whether serving as active duty, reserve, or in civilian support roles, are the heroes that protect America’s people, ideals, and interests at home and abroad. They face key operational and mission-focused challenges: fighting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, expanding the Department of Defense’s (DoD) role into homeland security, and undertaking substantial efforts to transform DoD’s forces and infrastructure into a 21st Century military enterprise. A key component of meeting each of these challenges is ensuring that the warfighter has leading edge satellite broadband communications solutions to fulfill mission requirements.

Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS)-based satellite communications solutions add to the speed, ubiquity, flexibility, and security of the net-centric enterprise and development of the Global Information Grid (GIG). Most importantly, COTS-based solutions ensure that whether on the ground in Afghanistan, in international air space or managing operations from the Pentagon, the warfighter remains connected — receiving and sharing the information needed to safeguard U.S. interests.

Hughes has a long history as an innovator in satellite broadband technology, having invented Very Small Aperture Technology (VSAT) networks more than 20 years ago. As the leader of Hughes DISD activities, I am providing information about how to incorporate satellite broadband COTS solutions into the strategy for net-centricity — meeting the immediate needs of the warfighter and the broader vision of developing the GIG. Implement common platforms for fixed and mobile applications. The battlefield of today is the mountains of Afghanistan, the rough terrain that borders Pakistan, the desert of Iraq, and small, rural communities throughout these countries. Communications-On-The-Move (COTM) are essential for mission success, providing the line of site and ubiquitous service that ensures that our soldiers can access needed intelligence from their command and report activities on the ground. In the case of emergency medical needs, a soldier’s life may be saved in the “golden hour” following injury using satellite applications — if on site medical personnel have access to transportable satellite solutions to communicate details to locations far away from the battlefield.

Using common SATCOM technology for fixed and mobile applications ensures uninterrupted connectivity, enhances interoperability, and adds to the security of communications. For example, the Hughes HX System, a FIPS compliant, Internet Protocol (IP)-based network, can be configured to provide Quality of Service (QoS) tailored to each individual terminal. The HX System bandwidth allocation scheme for managing traffic requests reallocates bandwidth based on inactivity, freeing up unused bandwidth and allowing an operator to make more efficient use of space segment resources.

The system is unique in that it may be used for fixed, ground mobile, shipboard and airborne applications all using the same HUB equipment and core modem. It also utilizes advanced adaptive coding algorithms to yield one of the most bandwidth efficient systems on the market today. Implementing common technology across platforms has the added benefit of enabling the DoD to leverage the buying power of the government to obtain best value. Above all, standards based, COTS solutions such as DVB-S2 ensure that the warfighter is always connected.

The latest generation satellite technology, such as the Hughes SPACEWAY®3 system, employs on-board traffic switching and routing, resulting in single-hop mesh connectivity among multiple sites. This yields dramatically improved flexibility to dynamically configure any networking topology — with minimum transmission delay and maximum security. Specific sites can be readily assigned to defined groups that are governed by strict rules enabling or prohibiting connectivity.

The Defense Information Systems Agency is studying this issue, and recently developed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with Hughes to study Network Centric Enterprise Architecture validation of IP networking with the Regenerative Satellite Mesh (RSM-A) standard and the SPACEWAY® 3 system. Under this CRADA, Hughes and DISA will perform research and development that supports overall IP convergence as the basis for seamlessly integrating DoD SATCOM networking and information needs with the GIG.

I encourage other DoD components to incorporate mesh architectures into near-term and future net-centric planning whether they be through the use of a processing satellite such as SPACEWAY 3 or through adaptations of conventional satellite systems, such as the Hughes HX System.

Consistent, reliable communications is the backbone of mission success. As the DoD creates the GIG and identifies the key components that form the framework of true net-centricity, it is important to be able to ask: “how easy is it to configure?” “Is it all working?” And…“how do we know?”

With tight budgets and the need to pare down priorities, it might be easy to overlook the need to improve network management software as a key element of developing the GIG. Instead, I would suggest that network management software is critical to improve network operations, monitor the status of network capabilities, and fix network problems before an unnecessary glitch or network failure negatively impacts the warfighter. Lessons can be learned in this area from commercial SATCOM operators such as Hughes, who manages over 600,000 customer sites from a single network operations center in the U.S. and others.

Meeting mission objectives with tight budgets while maintaining our increasing need for global military presence, demands that DoD seize every advantage. COTS-based satellite broadband solutions present a remarkable advantage, arming the warfighter to protect and defend the U.S. while ensuring their own safety — anytime, anywhere — through enhanced communications. As net-centricity continues to evolve and the DoD expands the GIG, COTS-based satellite broadband solutions must be a key piece of that foundation.

About the author
Rick Lober is Vice President and General Manager for the Defense and Intelligence Systems Division (DISD) at Hughes Network Systems. He may be reached at rick.lober@hughes.com