ASSESSING OPTIONS: Industry-provided MEO, foreground, and GEO, background, ground satellite prototype terminals are seen here during an early Army assessment of managed multi-orbit satellite communications capabilities and services, in March at the Joint SATCOM Engineering Center, at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. (Photo by Amy Walker, PEO C3T)
The Army is looking at a new business model for satellite communications that could bundle equipment and services.
by Lt. Col. Natashia Coleman, Tyler Cook and Amy Walker
As the Army faces potential great power threats, retaining decision dominance in multidomain operations—over sea, land, space, cyber and air—will require continual network modernization to keep up with the rapid pace of technology. That comes at great cost.
A new business model for the acquisition of satellite communications could help mitigate some of this expense. In-line with the Army’s recently released Unified Network Plan, the Army is looking at a Satellite Communications as a Managed Service (SAAMS) model to more affordably keep up with the accelerating speed of technology advancement, while reducing resource and budget burdens, equipment obsolescence and other sustainment challenges.
Similar to the way a commercial cell phone provider bundles a cell phone together with a data service plan, the Army is looking at various degrees of commercially managed service plans to support the acquisition of satellite communications in a multidomain battlespace.
Traditionally, to deliver robust satellite communications to Soldiers in the fight, the Army would procure each component separately. Hardware; software; commercial satellite constellation bandwidth; network traffic aggregation and management; maintenance and sustainment support; and the numerous others services required to make the network work—each element is often put on a separate stand-alone contract. Conversely, in one example of a potential SAAMS business model, some or all of the equipment could be provided on a leased basis, with a monthly service fee. The fee could be dependent on location, number of users, length of needed service, data rates and other factors, as defined in a service level agreement.
Instead of the Army having to upgrade systems, often as soon as they hit the field, the provider would be responsible for continually modernizing, updating and even replacing capability in a services construct. Provider system updates and technology refresh would enable capability to remain current over time at an affordable cost.
SaamS would not be a one-size-fits-all model, but a modular, scalable and flexible approach that could support a wide variety of different missions. Different threats may require different solutions. The Army would capitalize on the strengths of numerous evolving satellite capabilities and designs, such as those in different orbits or coverage areas, to provide commanders and signal officers with multiple network communication capabilities and signal path options to optimally support their mission sets and increase network resiliency.
Although the Army is not totally convinced yet that the SAAMS business model is the right way to go, the service is currently looking to industry partners to provide innovation, to unveil how they envision this model working and how they could continually arm U.S. forces with relevant capability using a SAAMS approach that the Army budget could support.
It must be noted, however, that with every step the Army takes with its industry partners toward modernizing satellite communications, continual Soldier experimentation and feedback will be critical to shaping unified network capability and designs to ensure Soldiers’ needs and requirements are met.
HOW CAN INDUSTRY HELP?
Future multidomain operations will require resilient robust global satellite communication coverage that enables units to exchange information from the foxhole to the Pentagon and to conduct remote mission command, cyber warfare and defense, and network management from home station. As noted in the Army’s Unified Network Plan, network speed, range and convergence, the marrying of tactical and enterprise capabilities, will be key enablers to achieving decision dominance.
The Army is looking to industry to help support these goals and continues to assess both mature and emerging commercial satellite technology, including low earth orbit (LEO) mega-constellations, medium earth orbit (MEO) and geosynchronous earth orbit (GEO) high-throughput satellites. The service anticipates the proliferation of LEO and MEO and high-throughput GEO satellite capabilities to deliver expeditionary, mobile, beyond-line-of-sight communications with increased bandwidth and low latency, to better enable resilient robust data exchange and future network modernization efforts. Commercial LEO and MEO satellite constellations, ground terminals and services are in various stages of maturity, as are joint protected high-throughput GEO military capabilities. With this in mind, the Army is working closely with industry to carefully lay a strong foundation to enable the secure integration of the right solutions into its unified network design at the right time and cost.
As U.S. forces face sophisticated near-peer threats in congested and contested environments, signal path diversity will be critical to units’ network communication “primary, alternate, contingency, emergency” (PACE) planning to increase network resiliency. This will include leveraging multi-orbit satellite communications from both commercial and military satellite constellations to ensure global coverage with multipath diversity extending beyond current commercial satellite frequency bands and GEO constellations. To support these efforts, the Army encourages teaming within industry to ensure worldwide coverage and signal path options, especially as multi-orbit capabilities mature.
In addition, with today’s PACE plans, when one satellite signal option isn’t working optimally, Soldiers have to manually switch network equipment to leverage different satellite signal path options, such as using different constellations or frequency bands. The Army is also leaning on industry to provide automated software-based solutions that can seamlessly switch between signal paths in different constellations and self-heal broken links, without Soldiers having to switch equipment or even notice any disruption in network service. New solutions would enable the switch to happen automatically, enhancing network resiliency and enabling Soldiers to concentrate on the fight instead of the network.
The Army is determined to choose easy-to-use, Soldier-centric designs that will simplify operations for non-signal Soldiers and reduce physical footprint—size, weight and power (SWAP) requirements. Open architectures and standards will be key to ensuring continual market competition, modernized capabilities and a unified network. The Army also needs to understand how quickly and effectively industry partners’ SAAMS solutions could scale up or down as missions shift. Additionally, with the possible use of a commercial network, the service wants to ensure that SAAMS service providers can meet current and evolving cyber and transmission security requirements as new threats are identified.
So what else is the Army looking for? It needs industry’s help in identifying other considerations to keep in mind while exploring a possible network in a SAAMS construct, in effect, to identify what it doesn’t already know.
WHAT HAVE WE DONE?
The Army is leveraging multifaceted acquisition processes to inform future SAAMS fielding and acquisition decisions. It is working across its acquisition, modernization, and research and development communities, with joint partners and industry, to experiment with evolving multiple Earth-orbit satellite communications technologies and better understand how they could drive the network of the future. The Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T); the Network Cross-Functional Team; and the Combat Capabilities Development Command C5ISR Center are working closely with industry to build a focused roadmap and test plan to allow emerging satellite communications capabilities to be tested in training and capability exercises over the next couple of years. These events will inform Army decisions on how innovative technologies and varying degrees of a SAAMS business model could best integrate into the greater network.
By falling in line with its two-year interval capability set acquisition and fielding process, the Army can piggy-back on new system and capability design development efforts, such as logistics network modernization and emerging multiple Earth-orbit capabilities, to home in on how different SAAMS efforts could best support the evolving unified network. As part of the capability set process, the Army is leveraging technical exchange meetings to forward SAAMS market research, with follow-on requests for white papers and “Shark Tank” demonstrations. The service entwines these efforts with network modernization lab-based experimentations, Soldier-led assessments and pilots, and network modernization field exercises such as NetModX and Project Convergence.
The Army recognizes industry’s experience, and that it is technically capable of achieving Army goals. That being said, deliberate planning, security and logistics considerations, and architecture development within the service’s unified network are required to realize the true benefits of a SAAMS construct. Frequent information sharing and communication throughout this process will keep both parties aligned with current and future unified network needs versus focusing on the acquisition of specific systems to support short-term goals.
As the Army modernizes and unifies its tactical and enterprise networks, lessons learned from continual market research and experimentation with the SAAMS business model can be shared across the joint services to reduce duplication of efforts and evolve U.S. satellite communications capability more expeditiously.
The Army’s Unified Network Plan is a strategic framework to guide the development of a unified network that can enable a multi-domain capable force by 2028. The goal is to enable Army, joint and coalition forces to seamlessly share information across the entire force, from the tactical user through the enterprise, to achieve decision dominance.
As the Army looks for better ways to acquire and modernize satellite communications capability in support of these goals, it will continue to leverage commercial competition to deliver the right Soldier-centric solutions at an affordable price. Partnering with industry in a SAAMS business model may prove to be a viable option in continual battle to keep the edge on near peer threats.
For more information, contact the PEO C3T Public Affairs Office at 443-395-6489 or usarmy.APG.firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to https://go.usa.gov/xMSNz for the 2021 Army Unified Network Plan or follow PEO C3T at http://peoc3t.army.mil/c3t/ and https://www.facebook.com/peoc3t.
COL. NATASHIA COLEMAN is the product lead for Unified Network Capabilities for Integration, assigned to Project Manager Tactical Network within the Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T). In this position, she is responsible for the technology maturation and integration of future capability sets into the Unified Network. Coleman earned an M.A. in human resource development and training from Webster University and a B.S. in accounting from the University of Arkansas. She is a graduate of the Command and General Staff College and Signal and Adjutant General Captain Career Courses. A member of the Army Acquisition Corps, she is Level III certified in in program management.
TYLER J. COOK is the assistant product manager for science and technology integration, assigned to PEO C3T’s Project Manager for Tactical Network, Product Lead for Unified Network Capabilities and Integration. He holds an M.E. in systems engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology and a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Penn State University. He is Level III certified in engineering and Level I certified in program management and is a member of the Army Acquisition Corps.
AMY WALKER has been the public affairs lead at Project Manager Tactical Network for over 10 years and was the public affairs lead at PEO C3T for the previous two. She has covered a majority of the Army’s major tactical network transport modernization efforts, including Army, Joint and Coalition fielding and training events worldwide. She holds a B.A. in psychology with emphasis in marketing and English, from the College of New Jersey.
Read the full article in the WINTER 2022 issue of Army AL&T magazine.
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