Rick Lober is the Vice President and General Manager of the Defense and Intelligence Systems Division (DISD) at Hughes Network Systems, LLC. In this role, he is responsible for applying the company’s broad range of SATCOM technologies and services to the worldwide defense marketplace and intelligence community. Applications cover satellite communications on the move for both ground-based and airborne platforms along with numerous classified development programs. He has more than 30 years experience with both COTS-based and full MIL communications and intelligence products, systems and major programs starting as a design engineer and progressing to a P&L executive.
Mr. Lober previously worked at Cubic Corporation as Sr. VP/GM of the Communications Business Unit. In this role, he led the company’s development of the Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL) for application to both manned and unmanned military ISR platforms. Mr. Lober holds a patent in wireless communications.
Good day, Mr. Lober… thanks for chatting with us… before discussing the current and future environments for Hughes Defense, what substantive changes have you seen for the company over your time with the firm? How has the company accommodated the various policy and mission changes for government/military systems over the years?
Rick Lober (RL)
Since I joined to run the Defense Division in 2008, Hughes has focused on innovation of ground and terminal system architectures, advanced waveforms and optimizing network management for resilient systems. The overall goal is to deploy highly flexible and interoperable communications networks by adapting our successful commercial technologies to suit defense users — such as providing expert network management services along with advanced terminals developed for airborne ISR platforms.
What successes has Hughes had this year? How do they fit into DoD’s current technology modernization efforts?
Hughes has had strong success in 2019 with exponential growth in its Defense business, winning several major DoD network modernization contracts that will help maintain superiority in today’s contested environments. Early in the year, Hughes started supporting the U.S. Air Force (USAF) to add much-needed resiliency to military satcom systems with a contract from Boeing for the Air Force’s Protected Tactical Enterprise Service (PTES) program. We will develop the mission management, system control, networking and ground hub capabilities to add new anti-jam satellite communications capabilities. This program will provide tactical warfighters with a joint ground platform designed to deliver protected communications services through the Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) satellite constellation, commercial satellites and eventually, the DoD’s Protected Tactical Satellites running the Protected Tactical Waveform (PTW).
This fall, we were awarded a contract funded by the USAF’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), through the Space Enterprise Consortium (SpEC), to modernize USAF satellite management using an Enterprise Management and Control (EM&C) prototype for satellite communications (SATCOM). The prototype will include the Hughes Flexible Modem Interface (FMI) Solution, which will enhance interoperability across military and commercial SATCOM networks helping create a unified hybrid network architecture.
We are also supporting the U.S. Army Narrowband SATCOM modernization through a recent $12 million contract award for R&D services to enhance the U.S. Army’s Narrowband SATCOM Transport Controller. This work will again strengthen network management, automate control and system interoperability by demonstrating a new, end-to-end Narrowband SATCOM Architecture incorporating Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) features. This Army contract is based on our work helping the USAF continue creating a more resilient, interoperable hybrid satcom architecture.
Most recently, we won another large contract to upgrade and modernize the SATCOM systems on a major DoD UAS platform. We appreciate Hughes being entrusted with this critical program as an alternative to a long-time incumbent.
What role can industry play to quickly build more resilience into DoD’s SATCOM networks?
Major commercial satellite operators have more than 100 advanced satellites on-orbit today that DoD users could potentially access if their ground systems could communicate with the variety of space assets. Our work with the USAF and the U.S. Army to implement our software-defined FMI capability will build greater resiliency and help ensure user terminals find alternative satellites when a disruption or outage occurs. Adversaries will find it quite challenging if they try to interfere with DoD SATCOM terminals that can access these 100+ commercial and military-operated satellites as well as future constellations, interoperating as part of the DoD’s migration to open-systems, enterprise satcom architecture.
Could you explain the work Hughes Defense is undertaking in regard to Protected SATCOM for warfighters?
Hughes Defense has become keenly focused on the growing need for more protected comms as DoD’s AEHF system cannot be the only resource with strong protection. As mentioned above, this year’s major contract to support Boeing’s PTES team uses advanced software capabilities and agile processes to increase protection for military and commercial satellites. PTES also incorporates interoperable SATCOM networking to deliver higher availability and resiliency which creates greater protection for military SATCOM operations. We have also seen increased interest in our specialized waveforms that have enhanced Low Probability of Intercept/Low Probability of Detection (LPI/LPD) characteristics which can protect against attempted disruptions to a Warfighter’s comms.
Do you see wideband SATCOM capabilities becoming a more common technology used across DoD platforms in the air, on the ground and at sea?
Yes, we absolutely see this happening. We see increased interest for wideband comms across the DoD and among other militaries worldwide as they move to add this high data rate comms to fixed-wing, rotary-wing and UAS platforms having specific bandwidth requirements for wideband services. Wideband SATCOM is growing as a priority because wideband service costs for tactical operations are decreasing at the same time as manufacturers are making much smaller and lighter terminals to meet mobility requirements in all domains. Having a wideband SATCOM channel to send and receive mission-critical data to and from platforms means more effective operations.
No matter the application today or in the future, a reliable wideband satellite connection must find its place in tactical operations. Our technology is highly flexible and scalable, so it can support increasingly data-intensive missions today and the data demands of the future.
Would you please explain the role that new commercial LEO satellite constellations can serve for the DoD?
As data is becoming as important as the weapons our soldiers carry, connectivity must become ubiquitous. As our president, Pradman Kaul, stated earlier this year, the goal of Hughes is to connect everything together economically and at high speeds. To do this for national security requirements, the military needs industry’s innovative GEO and Non Geo-Stationary Orbit (NGSO) satellites — a broad solution leveraging the diversity and inherent advantages that deliver greater operational strength.
LEOs will have two primary advantages for the military: global coverage, as they aim to cover every square inch of the globe, and lower latency with less distance for the data to travel. Geostationary satellites on the other hand, offer bigger data pipes, higher capacity density and on most of the latest commercial satellites, smaller spot beams for greater efficiency and flexibility. The coverage of a LEO system combined with the power and frequency re-use of GEOs will offer the military a dynamic and flexible solution, especially if services are brought together through a proven and trusted managed services provider, like Hughes.
The company understands that LEO and GEO satellites will largely complement each other and that is why the company has invested in, and is working closely with OneWeb, to develop the ground infrastructure to support their LEO constellation. Hughes has produced for the project, a first-of-its-kind gateway that can handle an unprecedented 10,000 beam hand-offs per second. And on GEO developments, Hughes will be launching our JUPITER™ 3 Ultra High-Density (UHD) Satellite, designated EchoStar 24, in 2021, and will provide 500 Gbps of new capacity for all the various markets across North and South America.
With satellites at LEO, MEO and GEO orbits, and soldiers and platforms relying on more connected sensors, can you tell us what benefits you see for the layered space architecture that has been proposed?
Hughes has been following the DoD’s efforts to create a new space architecture that includes a layered approach. Earlier this year, the Space Development Agency (SDA) outlined a notional architecture of seven layers of satellites: space transport, tracking, custody, deterrence, navigation, battle management, and support. We agree that a layered space architecture will deliver the resilience and security needed for today’s information-centric battlespace. For mission success in contested environments, soldiers must be able to connect to decision makers in real time to ensure they can make fast and well-informed tactical decisions despite adversarial attempts at disrupting communications.
What is your perspective on speeding up DoD space acquisition?
We are seeing great progress in DoD space acquisition initiatives as the faster pace enables industry to develop advanced prototypes in months rather than years. For the USAF, Hughes has leveraged both Other Transaction Authority (OTA) and Section 804 acquisition processes. We support the SpEC, Space Enterprise Consortium, becoming a central player in the Space and Missile Systems Center’s (SMC) work to increase collaboration between the USAF and industry. In fact, our latest contract from SMC to produce an Enterprise Management and Control (EM&C) prototype for satcom networks, mentioned above, was awarded through SpEC.
The USAF’s PATS program for protected tactical satcom (PTS) is moving quickly, and the PTES program used the new Section 804 authority to award our contract. It’s important to remember why DoD is enacting these rapid acquisition initiatives — to ensure solutions get to the warfighter as quickly as possible to give them a tactical advantage. If it takes too long, money is wasted, and the upper hand is likely lost.
What role do Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) technologies play within the Hughes Defense product families?
Hughes offers flexible COTS products across our commercial and government/military businesses. This includes our HM400 which is a software driven modem for Comms-on-the-Move (COTM). The modem uses software to enable flexibility in the overall system, including the capability to host a large suite of standardized and commercial waveforms. We have other development efforts that may not use a COTS device but still leverages the foundation of proven commercial technology, and then is adapted for a DoD system specification.
What is the difference between a military grade and a commercial grade satellite terminal and what does Hughes Defense offer as far as tactical communication support is concerned?
Right now, the major difference is cost and complexity. We manufacture more than 50,000
Ka-band, JUPITER terminals a month at our factory here in Gaithersburg, Maryland using an advanced and largely automated assembly line. These terminals cost less than 1 percent of what the military pays for a fixed terminal, and already come ready to stand up to heat, cold, wind, rain and snow for years mounted on rooftops around the world. Granted they are built in high volumes, operate on a single band, fixed point, and are not full MIL-SPEC, but I think the military can learn a lot from our processes.
Going forward, the military needs to develop a standard size and open-control interface standard for modems — even if the waveforms running on the modem are proprietary. Using FMI, multiple modems can be plugged into a terminal and operate over multiple commercial and military networks. The RF portion of the terminal presents some challenges — this can be better standardized to control costs.
What are the most pressing concerns for the MILSATCOM community — how can Hughes address these needs now and in the future?
I see two very important concerns — availability and resiliency, which have emerged as a result of near-peer militaries building up capabilities to disrupt all types of communications networks. At Hughes, we are helping the DoD through our global partnerships, like our Joint Venture with Yahsat that enables us to deliver HTS services in the ME/A regions.
We also see our advanced software technologies and modular open systems architecture approach as critical to delivering more resilient systems. Our AI and ML capabilities ensure that satellite networks can access the most available and reliable satellites, modems and services available when the warfighter needs them.
Hughes Defense continues to look for more ways to adapt our advanced commercial networking capabilities to military requirements. We understand the contested environment that DoD faces and have developed specialized waveforms to strengthen user terminals. For example, our advanced comms systems delivered to General Atomics for its Predator B Sky Guardian include new anti-jam enhancements.
What goals do you personally wish to accomplish for Hughes Defense over the next several months?
Hughes Defense has experienced a pivotal year in 2019 receiving several large and long-term awards for major new DoD SATCOM programs. We won these programs to better support the modern warfighter by providing new levels of commercial innovation and leveraging our long-standing technical expertise as the global leader in satellite networks and services. Our opportunity pipeline has dramatically increased because we are committed to delivering cost-effective systems and customer satisfaction. This is and has always been the culture that has driven Hughes for over 45 years and has helped us become the go-to SATCOM provider customers can trust for an honest answer or proposal response. The highlight of my year is when customers tell me “they enjoy working with Hughes because we always answer the call,” and my goal is always to work hard to maintain that reputation.
Going forward, we expect to keep this momentum and compete for opportunities to support new programs that enable airborne ISR, connectivity services and resilient network management. We are also exploring new capabilities like next generation narrowband SATCOM systems to support IoT and sensor enablement, LEO architecture management, and continuing to apply AI and machine learning to military SATCOM.
I personally hope to create a stronger brand identity in the military market — similar to what many in our community remember from years past.