Satellite comms offers warfighters multiple data paths

Budget shortfalls produce need for hybrid approach

A decade of war in the Technology Age has produced an unprecedented need for high-tech communications and data-sharing, but with the Defense Department facing budget cuts it will need to use its own solutions as well as those coming from the private sector, according to a panel of industry insiders.

“What’s evolved over time is the increased need for huge amounts of data coming from unmanned vehicles…that was not very well-anticipated,” said J.J. Shaw, vice president for product development at Inmarsat Government.

Shaw spoke as part of a panel at the Satellite 2012 conference in Washington March 14. Members of the panel, most from industry and one Navy official, talked about options for strategic partnerships.

“There’s certainly been an increasing demand for military operations and warfighter welfare…where they expect the same high-functioning, interconnected, always-on technology environment they know from home,” said Vince Squitieri, program manager for the communications program office, Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I). “Commercial augmentation is critical.”

To compensate for shortfalls and also meet growing demands for bandwidth imposed by increasing use of unmanned aerial vehicles, the government is being forced to come up with creative ways to meet communications needs.

Shaw said industry is responding with a hybrid approach to meeting challenges posed by decreasing budgets and contested environments.

“Industry is responding by building a plethora of higher data-rate systems…and hybrid architecture. It may be a line-of-sight system, it may be a terrestrial system or it may be a satellite system,” Shaw said. “At the pointy end, maybe you have multiple paths of getting information where it needs to be, and if one is denied the others may be available. In a contested environment, that’s critical.”

According to Michael Geist, director of government programs at ViaSat, industry is also working to improve efficiencies in waveforms and satellite capabilities, and is also taking aim at the network layer.

The approach is already being implemented in the Navy, Squitieri said.

“One of the key themes is, which way is the Navy going to go, military or commercial? I don’t think it’s an either-or; I think in order to achieve risk mitigation and really have truly resilient communications is to have a blend of both,” he said.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering military networks for Defense Systems.

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