Over the last few years, the Department of Defense (DoD) has focused on being able to share data and information at machine-speed so agencies can work faster and more efficiently. As several DoD officials noted during the 2020 Defense One Tech Summit panel, “The most important element in the battlefield of the future won't be rockets, bullets or robots, but data and the ability to collect it from any point and send it where it needs to be.” That goal requires always-on high-speed connectivity and the ability for secure satellite communications (SATCOM) systems to “talk” to each other.
A Long List of Challenges
There’s a long list of challenges facing DoD when it comes to reaching this goal and gaining much-needed resiliency. Chief among them is that current military SATCOM networks are typically built as “closed” or “stovepipe” systems which do not support the flow of data or information in or out. While this keeps them highly secure, joint force system users are unable to exchange data with one another across networks, which severely hampers decision-making at the tactical edge. These siloed systems also slow users from gaining approved system access, further hampering the military’s agility and responsiveness to threats.
To reconfigure legacy systems to be interoperable will take considerable time and resources. Additionally, the DoD must grapple with upgrading legacy network infrastructure and the daunting task of keeping pace with the rapid move to cloud and hybrid technologies.
Looking to Commercial Networks for Answers
The good news is that there are several proven services and technologies across commercial sectors that can help resolve these issues for DoD and its agencies. One option is to follow the example of private sector enterprises with distributed offices and adopt Managed Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) solutions. Already widely proven, Managed SD-WAN offers a clear path to better performance, increased security, and reduced network costs. For the DoD in particular, dynamic network management services applied across stovepiped systems would enable greater interoperability without sacrificing security.
For example, utilizing a variety of SD-WAN technologies, capabilities, and innovations, a Managed Services Provider (MSP) like Hughes might map traffic to the best of multiple paths and transports; or create a dependable network from multiple commercial providers that deliver SATCOM and even terrestrial services. Some MSPs can work with DoD users to address various network elements at the global, theater, and tactical levels and effectively integrate them with other elements and peer systems to best address mission and operational needs through automated service definition, fulfillment, and assurance functions.
Under such scenarios, DoD could harness commercial advances and fully leverage 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), the Internet of Things (IoT) and other next-generation technologies. Clare Grason, Chief of the US Space Force’s Commercial Satellite Communications Office, advocated for this approach during the Satellite Innovation 2020 virtual conference, when she stressed that commercial SATCOM technology is critical to the Space Force and must include innovative network management services.
A solution based on commercial Managed SD-WAN would fulfill her vision and deliver on a host of DoD operational objectives, including:
- Near real-time communications ordering and provisioning (with connectivity in a matter of minutes, not days)
- Visibility and coordination of all SATCOM operations and assets worldwide
- Management and visibility of end-to-end service delivery
- Situational understanding of operational events and effects
- Predictive analysis of network capacity and requirements
- Mobility and continuous connectivity
- Network-layer interface for OSS/BSS information exchange between element networks
As an MSP with more than 500,000 enterprise network sites under management, Hughes solves very real connectivity challenges for vast networks—including SD-WAN implementations spanning as many as 3,500 sites and the company’s own satellite Internet network with 1.5 million end-points—all while optimizing network performance. This level of expertise and range of managed services can enable DoD to achieve its goal: to collect and share data from any point and to any point in support of the warfighter mission.