Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch is an unmistakable leader in the satellite mobility industry and a valued, long-standing member of the MSUA Board. It is with great pleasure that I share my recent interview with her. Always thoughtful, Rebecca elaborates on the trusted partnership between the USG and industry, the role of satellite in the digital transformation era, today's satellite user communities, and why she values MSUA and serving on the MSUA Board.
Catherine Melquist (CM) There is so much happening in the U.S. Government related to space. What activities do you believe to be most important to the satellite industry?
Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch (RCH)
Clearly, with the passing of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, the official launching of the U.S. Space Force brings the potential to transform space for the U.S. government with satellite communications (SATCOM) being one particular area of interest to Inmarsat. Led by Gen John W. "Jay" Raymond, Air Force Space Command and U.S. Space Command Commander, the Space Force will run as an independent service with Title 10 responsibilities. It will organize, train and equip forces to support operations run by U.S. Space Command or other combatant commands. Gen Raymond has said that, by creating the Space Force, “the President and Congress have given us a great opportunity to build the force we need to respond to the challenges we face in the space domain.
The creation of the Space Force represents a major milestone in what we have seen in recent years as impactful, forward momentum. This momentum has inspired the U.S. government to increasingly focus on the acceleration of a defendable space and the need for diversity, redundancy and resiliency of assets. Subsequently, the U.S. government has taken a number of steps and implemented strategies that promise to redefine how it acquires SATCOM, with the goal of developing an integrated SATCOM architecture of the future with enhanced capabilities, resiliency and affordability made available through commercial SATCOM owner-operators.
Just recently, the Space Force formally announced the signature of its Vision for SATCOM with the following imperative: “The signing of the U.S. Space Force Enterprise SATCOM Vision comes after a number of recent events that gave the command an opportunity to transform how SATCOM is procured, managed and delivered to USSPACECOM and other combatant commands around the world.”
With this as backdrop in the current U.S. government environment, one key area of interest for the mobility communications industry is how this shapes new processes for acquisition reform, or how the U.S. government buys satellites communication and other services. Additionally, how the Department of Defense (DoD) forges new and evolving partnerships with commercial and Allies will be informative of how business relationships will change as a result.
How do you see the USG and industry teaming together to leverage the benefits and opportunities of space? What are the challenges?
We are seeing meaningful, forward momentum to expand opportunities for the U.S. government and trusted commercial providers to work together as partners toward the achievement of these goals. This is supported by shifts in acquisition practices resulting in the government moving away from the ineffective status quo in favour of a more robust, integrated architecture. 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 next steps and timelines for implementing what is being called “the SATCOM Enterprise,” which aspires to create a “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.
Also, the DoD and federal agencies are updating their acquisition directives to remove restrictions requiring lowest price technically acceptable, which has been the predominant source selection criteria for commercial SATCOM (COMSATCOM). This would amend the Federal Acquisition Regulation 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.
However, there are challenges to overcome for the partnership to truly realize its full potential. We need a clear line of authority that understands all of the essential pieces, pulls them together and watches over them – establishing a single, unified architecture. This authority would serve as a strong advocate of a government-commercial partnership, to champion investment as “commercial first” with funded programs which address SATCOM issues through improved capabilities, flexibility, mobility and resiliency, while eliminating the reliance on Overseas Contingency Operations funding, or OCO funds for COMSATCOM purchase.
An integrated architecture that plans for and funds, through appropriated budget as well a Defense Working Capital Fund, the all of SATCOM, military and commercial, is essential. Users should have open access to nothing less than a “fully stocked tool shed” – with some legacy, purpose-built platforms for their specific needs, but more modern, commercially-developed options primarily – to readily obtain mission-critical mobile and highly-available SATCOM across multiple spectrum. Without such a tool shed, an essential, fully integrated architecture with heterogeneous networks, modern capabilities and flexible resiliency will remain out-of-reach.
As you know, we are well into the Digital Transformation Era. What does that mean to Inmarsat and U.S. government users?
The integrated architecture represents the very best of digital transformation thinking. It would allow for all altitudes and capitalize on capabilities which are existent and trusted, and continue to invest in innovative technologies. Such an architecture would make coverage and capacity “yesterday’s conversation,” with military and industry leaders more focused on combining a robust ground segment with adaptable terminals and a space layer, and COMSATCOM adding flexibilities through software-enhanced capabilities and flexible modem operations.
This is why we we should frame our imperatives upon SATCOM as a Service, which has emerged as the satellite acquisition model for the modern age that helps deliver that digital edge to end users. This is the model that Inmarsat’s mobile-centric strategy embraces, unique in the market. Inmarsat’s end-to-end robust network is owned and managed by Inmarsat, consisting of satellites, robust ground infrastructure and Inmarsat type-approved terminals. It is purpose built for government users who require worldwide mobility delivered through a single managed subscription. Its Committed Informatin Rates (CIR) throughout the world are backed-up by Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that guarantee government end users always get what they need and pay for.
SATCOM as a Service stays ahead of the demand curve by delivering next-generation technology advancements that arrive without additional capital investment from our customers. This enables the desired flexibility, security and cost-efficiency that allow government users to complement their MILSATCOM systems when and where needed, without any upfront commitment.
MSUA was founded by Inmarsat as a forum for connecting with satellite user communities. As you know, MSUA is considering new forms of engagement with today's user communities. How do you group user communities for the USG? Do today’s user communities differ from 20+ years ago when MSUA was created?
Highly mobile government users must share information in real time wherever their mission takes them. It is imperative that they stay connected, whether on land, at sea or in the air. Given that these users are always moving across the globe, often with little or no-notice, there is a sense of urgency for high-performing, reliable and secure voice, data and video that is always available. A dropped connection could jeopardize the mission, and ultimately, even lives.
These users include unmanned airborne operations with long reach and range that require more than air-to-ground links. For Beyond Line of Site (BLOS) communications as well as high data rate exfiltration, reliable, always-on satellite capability provides critical communications. Military forces at sea, U.S. Coast Guard operations, special operations vessels and other maritime units depend upon consistent satellite performance that is unaffected by geographic changes. With capacity in greater demand, through reliable satellite communication connectivity, tactical commanders make key decisions and pass along information about military assets in near real-time, anywhere in the world. When a natural or man-made disaster strikes, first responders must stand ready to deploy anywhere on Earth, at a moment’s notice. In those situations, every second counts, and reliable connectivity is imperative to maintain seamless communication services when existing access and core infrastructure may be damaged or destroyed.
Today, SATCOM is widely considered as a mission-critical enabler. Reliable access to, and distribution of, information always serves as a necessary part of any operation. Users need high-performing voice, data and video that “moves” seamlessly with them, throughout the entire mission, from training, in transition and at the designated site, no matter the geographical environment.
Even with all of this, I think the most significant change in our user community today is the increase pace of their activities and the dramatic increase in data rate demands over time, especially as the environment in which they operated is increasingly complex. Also, the users of today, across all sectors, are far more network savvy and expect a much higher quality of service then two, probably even just one decade ago. They expect the same type of quality, ubiquity and assurance that we enjoy from today’s terrestrial and mobile telephony in our daily lives. These users are clever, innovative, and are already considering applications that were beyond the wildest dreams when we began MSUA.
What is the best way to engage USG user communities so they are clear about the benefits of satellite versus other wireless technologies?
While perhaps trite to say, the answer is “communication.” Clarifying the advantages of satellite technology as well as the interdependence of terrestrial and wireless technologies is even more important than ever. For U.S. government users, whether military or federal, the key is the recognition of the criticality of assured satellite communication networks in their mission-critical communications. Once this dependence is understood, then the comparative advantages of one technology over another in a given scenario can be properly applied. Over time, the real digital transformation will further be enabled when a user is able, through policy-based routing and mobile ad-hoc networking, to autonomously leverage the proper network solution, whether it be satellite, terrestrial, or wireless at the time and speed of need. Though we may be a few years away from that yet.
Given that user experience/expectations is typically set by forms of wireless connectivity other than satellite, what steps is Inmarsat taking to align with the high-performance expectations of 5G?
As the backbone of the world’s communications infrastructure, satellite services will play a critical role in enabling and extending terrestrial 5G networks by providing the network resilience and ubiquity of coverage needed. Both satellite and mobile operators will need to work collaboratively to deliver the 5G revolution. Neither can do it alone. Inmarsat sees our capabilities as complementary with 5G. Our network is robust and secure, trusted worldwide by governments, international institutions and global organizations to deliver safety and security. Our ubiquitous coverage means that we are uniquely positioned to help join the dots of connectivity between urban and rural, the developed and developing world, and sea, air and land. This will be even more vital in a world of smart cities, future mobility technologies, IoT and 5G.
What are the most important Inmarsat innovations — current and future — in mobile connectivity to USG customers?
Seamless mobility is and will be core to U.S. government missions around the world, and Inmarsat is a major driving force behind technological innovation in mobile satellite communications. Inmarsat owns and operates the world’s best global portfolio of satellite networks, specifically designed for customer mobility, and we strive to deliver government-focused innovation with continuous network improvements that lead the evolution of always-on global mobile connectivity and assured access.
Inmarsat’s funded and approved investment strategy for the future ensures backward-compatible operations right alongside of innovations to provide trusted, mobile, global SATCOM networks well into the next generation.
The most significant current and future initiatives driving our innovation in narrowband and wideband include global L-band continuity well into 2040 and the expansion and innovation of our Global Xpress network:
Inmarsat 5th Global Xpress satellite - GX5, launched in November 2019, is the first step to be followed by further payloads all focused on meeting growing and changing market demands. Through this evolution of Global Xpress, we are taking revolutionary leaps forward in the way we design, deliver and operate our infrastructure; from satellites and ground stations, to terminals and network management. This is all to ensure that we are able to deliver new broadband capacity in step with rapidly growing and highly-dynamic customer demand.
The GX5 satellite will deliver additional, focused capacity to meet the rapidly growing demand for reliable, seamless, high-capacity wideband services in the EMEA region with four independently steerable mil-Ka beams, complementing military satellite resources.
Inmarsat’s sixth-generation, or Inmarsat-6, fleet, with the first satellite scheduled for launch in 2020, offers a unique hybrid payload that supports Global Xpress and extends L-band services to 2040. It will also usher in a new generation of capabilities for the 5G era, from advanced global safety services and low-cost mobile services to high definition streaming. The advanced Ka-band payload adds further depth to Global Xpress coverage, increasing capacity in regions with the highest demand.
Global Xpress Arctic Payloads, or GX10A & 10B, in partnership with Space Norway and its subsidiary, Space Norway HEOSAT, represent the world’s first and only mobile wideband payload dedicated to the Arctic region and will integrate seamlessly into the current and planned Global Xpress network. The payloads, scheduled to launch in 2022, will be fully compatible with current and future Global Xpress terminals, ensuring that current Global Xpress customers can benefit from the further extension of the network. The new Arctic payloads will be placed into Highly Elliptical Orbits (HEO), with continuous coverage above 65º North and the ability to direct capacity in real-time to areas of highest demand. These payloads will also bring mil-Ka capacity through service beams and high-capacity steerable beams, complementing military satellite resources cost effectively for optimal redundancy, protection, scalability and global portability.
The next evolution of Global Xpress, which we call the GX7, 8 and 9 program, with the first satellite scheduled to launch in H1 2023, is a continuation of the transformation of our Global Xpress network capacity, capabilities and operational agility. Backed by the most advanced cybersecurity features of any global network, the next evolution of Global Xpress will deliver dynamically-formed beams that enable agile and precise allocation of ultra, high-power capacity over high-demand areas and allow for superior interference resistance. This innovative, software-defined global architecture with GEO satellites has flexible payloads that can be relocated when and where required across the geostationary arc and connect to any Inmarsat software-defined ground network node, enabling higher throughput speeds and flexible and dynamic capacity scaling based on user-specific resource demands.
What's it going to take for satellite to successfully compete and gain visibility in the larger IT / Telecom market place?
Clearly, satellite communications encompass an entire universe of robust information technologies, beyond merely the satellites themselves. Most commercial users, whether enterprise or consumer, view satellite communications as a critical capability to support their business or mission need. For the government market, however, even with the advanced maturity and ubiquity of telecommunications provided by the commercial satellite industry, there remains a divide between historical military acquisition and the use of commercial systems how the industry delivers, and its users buy, services.
In the national security enterprise, technology is not the impediment — processes and cultural reluctance are. At what could be a turning point for systems procurement, the DoD will benefit tremendously when it commits to a fully integrated commercial foundation in the enterprise architecture which leverages the best that industry has to offer.
The final step is to embrace satellite communications as a service. Across the DoD and the broader national security enterprise, services acquired “as a service” models are widely employed for a vast range of mission-critical telecommunication and information technology capabilities. When communications satellites are viewed as a network, or even a network of networks that enable mission success, the processes and methodologies for acquiring these services can evolve accordingly.
Final question — Inmarsat is a founding member of MSUA and you are a longstanding and highly valued member of the MSUA Board. To industry colleagues considering a membership in MSUA, what would you say are the most important benefits of joining the organization?
As one of the longest running industry and user associations, I would advocate engagement and active membership to not only stay abreast of industry relevant topics but also to help shape and influence the direction of the mobility industry. The Association also enables important connections for the growth of its membership companies’ business as well as expanding its members’ professional network. MSUA membership dues are affordable and a great return on investment since engagement with the association and benefiting from its reach and connections.
Catherine Melquist is the President of the MSUA, and Senior Director of Channel Partnerships, NetNumber