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How to Ensure More Resilient, Secure MILSATCOM

Honeywell 757

Rick Lober, vice president and general manager of the Hughes Defense & Intelligence Systems Division, recently commented on the increasing role of space for defense, and how it will become even more significant over the next 10 years.

Space used to be a safe place. In fact, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty established that all nations should have free access to space and that exploration of the cosmos should be a peaceful enterprise for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, but it is not assured anymore. Space security is now a priority for the Department of Defense (DoD). It’s top of mind for Hughes engineers as well, who are innovating technologies to help secure satellite communication (SATCOM) networks.

As an example, Hughes, SES and Honeywell recently demonstrated how military customers can gain more resilient, secure airborne SATCOM through multi-network, multi-orbit high speed connectivity. Flying aboard the Honeywell 757 test aircraft, to simulate DoD deployment of a large C130 cargo plane, the team sent and received reliable, uninterrupted communications throughout the demonstration.

Honeywell’s JetWave MCX broadband SATCOM solution, using the Hughes software-defined HM-series modem, was paired with SES’ medium earth orbit (MEO) high-throughput, low-latency network, and multiple SES geostationary satellites, including the government-dedicated GovSat-1 satellite. The Hughes modems are designed with open interfaces and are standards-based, so they are flexible and compatible with this aircraft and hardware as well as various vendors’ equipment, offering resilience to the DoD for multiple aircraft platforms.

The demonstration highlights the many benefits of multi-orbit engineering breakthroughs for airborne MILSATCOM networks, including:

  • Increased resiliency – Multi-orbit technologies will reduce the military’s reliance on a single satellite while increasing SATCOM resiliency. If a geostationary (GEO) satellite is impaired, the modem can switch to a MEO satellite to maintain connectivity. Based on the mission, connectivity can switch to the appropriate link or move to another network in case there’s a problem, fault, or jam. There is no manual work for the user, it’s all done in the system.

  • High-speed airborne connectivity – Multi-network capabilities provide different options for communications, based on the mission. One of the main goals for the demonstration with Honeywell and SES was to show the automated switching of satellite signals that occurs in seconds and does not require a person to manually switch to another satellite link; the manual process is slow and costly. For time-critical missions like Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and situational awareness gathering, every second counts. Because the HM modem is software-defined, switches are rules-based.

  • Interoperability – Many departments within DoD have acquired equipment and hardware services from different SATCOM providers, and those systems are often proprietary. The airborne demonstrations were proof-in-action that the Hughes modem is compatible with various Ka-band networks and can provide military customers with dynamic link switching to support primary alternate contingency and emergency (PACE) communication requirements.

As the role of space in defense expands, industry leaders like Hughes will continue to innovate and demonstrate technologies that increase resiliency, deliver high-speed connectivity in the air (and elsewhere), and create secure yet compatible systems that work well together. Most importantly, warfighters will have the data they need, when and wherever they need it, including in congested and contested environments.

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