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Today, most military and commercial satellite communications networks are closed, “stove-piped” or “singlethreaded” systems that do not interoperate or work in conjunction with one another. Without a secondary or tertiary network path to back up the primary connection, this siloed architecture leaves network terminals vulnerable. This is especially problematic for the remote terminals associated with military satellite communications (SATCOM) operations, where a signal disruption can cut off communications entirely.
Inspired by SD-WAN
Drawing on its experience operating HughesNet®, the world’s largest commercial satellite network with over 1.4 million endpoints, and its award-winning HughesON™ Managed SD-WAN Solution, Hughes is helping the Department of Defense (DoD) build more resilient satellite networks.
“Military networks must possess intelligent, self-healing capabilities that leverage alternative network pathways so they can recover from threats that disturb normal operations, whether it’s blockage caused by trees and terrain or a deliberate attack,” explained Dr. Rajeev Gopal, vice president of advanced programs for
Hughes Defense & Information Systems Division (DISD).
Hughes has been developing and testing a range of solutions for DoD which utilize advanced network management capabilities, including Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) software, standardized interfaces and the Hughes Flexible Modem Interface (FMI) control software. Prototypes are critical for DoD to
validate technologies and solutions within their own unique environment.
As an example, AI and ML components enable remote terminal and network management, including the ability to automate network path adjustments in case of
interrupted transmissions. Greater system interoperability, which is necessary to allow a terminal to choose from and access multiple networks, can be created using standardized interfaces and the Hughes FMI control software. By using AI/ML along with the common interfaces, processes and rules-related decision-making can be automated based on mission priorities.
“Hughes FMI software can assess what is happening across network services—good or bad—and implement changes for greater efficiency,” added Gopal. “Changes can be driven by a new rule or logic rather than having engineers perform coding tasks manually, as in the old days. This is much faster and more
efficient, reducing lengthy processes down to hours or even minutes that used to take weeks or months to program.”
A Proving Ground for NBSA
Most recently, Hughes was awarded an $11.8M contract by the U.S. Army to research and demonstrate solutions and prototype products to improve transport
and network performance availability and reliability. Answering the Army’s requirement for improved resiliency and interoperability among SATCOM systems, Hughes will demonstrate a new, end-to-end Narrowband SATCOM Architecture (NBSA) incorporating AI and ML features. The NBSA will be designed to improve three critical areas—network management, automated control, and system interoperability—for the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, C5ISR Center, Space and Terrestrial Communications Directorate.
“We are now seeing significant interest in military applications that build on the same network management expertise that we’ve developed over the last 30 years,” said Rick Lober, vice president and general manager of Hughes DISD. “We’re proud to have been awarded three important contracts in the last seven months that leverage these capabilities including work on the DoD’s next generation satellite gateways.” Gary P. Martin, Retired U.S. Army Program Executive Officer for Command, Control and Communications, explained, “Hughes is one of a few commercial companies that has demonstrated the capability to operate very large networks consisting of both SATCOM and terrestrial components. Their expertise, unique technologies, and integrated solutions should be considered by the Department of Defense as they continue to modernize their networks. The area of network management is fundamental to improving the performance, resilience, and responsiveness of large complicated networks. Hughes does this well on commercial offerings and I am pleased to see that they are bringing this expertise to the Department of Defense.”
Ultimately, these and other Hughes solutions have the potential to create a more resilient, cost-effective, and flexible SATCOM architecture for global security applications.