The U.S. Army Futures Command (AFC) is incorporating emerging commercial satellite constellations and technologies into its upcoming field experiments to enable the Army’s Network community to better understand their potential applications.
The Command, Control, Communication, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center (C5ISR) Center – a component of AFC’s Combat Capabilities Development Command – is leading the Army’s experimentation efforts for Low Earth Orbit (LEO), Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) and Geosynchronous (GEO) High Throughput satellite systems to learn how these technologies could make the tactical network more robust and resilient.
The Army relies heavily on GEO Satellite Communication (SATCOM) for beyond-line-of-sight communications in tactical environments. They follow the Earth’s orbit and appear fixed in the sky, so they are easy for SATCOM ground terminals to locate and track. However, they are more than 22,000 miles away, which delays communications and increases the power requirements needed to transmit data from the ground to the satellite.
Emerging LEO and MEO constellations are closer to Earth and offer potential advantages in scalability and throughput with less delay; however, they are more difficult to track as they move quickly across the sky and require ground terminals to transition between satellites to support continuous operation.
“There is no silver bullet solution, so we need to incorporate capabilities to enable multiple paths for our tactical network. Resiliency through diversity is our end state,” said Michael Monteleone, the Center’s director for Space and Terrestrial Communications.
“We are working across the whole sphere of connectivity to address the varying needs of units at different echelons. Commercial constellations are going to put up massive amounts of satellites or massive capacity within their satellites. We have to understand what the strengths and weaknesses are of these commercial systems, how we can leverage them for best possible use in a military environment and what would be needed to integrate them into the Army’s network architecture,” he said.
To better understand the best-use cases for integrating commercial satellite constellations with the Army’s Tactical Network, the C5ISR Center will focus on assessing performance – such as bandwidth, delay and resiliency in contested environments – and size, weight and power requirements. These will be measured under different conditions, using Army networks and applications, and tactical scenarios applicable to Army ground and air platforms.
The Center will also use the experiments to understand requirements for its efforts to develop integrated, on-the-move and at-the-halt SATCOM terminals. The integrated terminals will operate across the constellations autonomously, keeping operation simple.
“We do not want to have specialized terminals for each of those capabilities, and we don’t want our Soldiers playing the old telephone operator game of plugging and unplugging cords every time they need to change connections,” said Rich Hoffmann, the Center’s lead for Protected SATCOM.
“We’re looking to provide a seamless autonomous capability so all our Soldiers have to do is set up the equipment and turn it on. An integrated terminal will make their lives easier, and give them more flexibility, as opposed to having to decide what’s available or what’s too bulky to take with them that day,” he said.
The Center is working numerous cooperative research and development (R&D) agreements (CRADAs) with industry to mutually pursue the research, development, integration, experimentation and assessment of integrated SATCOM terminals. The partnerships are helping to build a focused technology roadmap in support of the acquisition community.
“Every commercial provider is doing something differently. We try to partner with as many as companies as possible that are service providers or are building integrated technologies or enablers that help bring other capabilities to bear,” said Monteleone.
“With our CRADA relationships, we are able to share a lot more information with those vendors in a controlled environment; we’re able to work with them in our labs and field experimentation venues to better explain the nuances of bringing an emerging capability into the Army network. The end result is some very mature technologies as the vendors have incorporated those lessons learned. Now, we have a more competitive marketplace that has a better understanding of the Army environment and its operational challenges,” he said.
The C5ISR Center is performing experiments and CRADA activities at its Joint Satellite Engineering Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland and will leverage the multi-domain environment of its field experimentation facilities at the C5ISR Flight and Ground Activities at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.
The Center uses field experimentation events, such as its annual Network Modernization Experiment (NetModX), to evaluate the maturity of DoD and industry technologies early in the R&D cycle and in a relevant, threat-based environment. The assessments establish baseline knowledge in understanding operational requirements and science and technology investments, drive development and support a coordinated acquisition strategy, according to Monteleone.
“Our science and technology efforts do not get to sit in our labs for years to be polished. We execute field experimentation events such as NetModX to hold ourselves accountable to the Army. We go after learning demands and assess how well we are maturing the technologies under our S&T efforts. We use operational scenarios and Soldier feedback to learn the ‘so what’ of the capability. We set up an environment that is OK to stumble and fail because we’re learning, developing and growing together and we’re getting better products as a result of it,” Monteleone said.
The C5ISR Center’s lab and field experiments are supporting the Army’s Network Modernization Strategy of delivering network capability enhancements every two years, beginning in fiscal year 2021.
The lessons learned will help inform the Network Cross Functional Team and program of record decisions regarding potential technologies being considered for inclusion in the Army’s Tactical Network Capability Sets 23, 25 and 27.
“I think we’re well postured to deliver data-based analysis in a unique way because we’re looking at the network holistically. We’ve been working very hard within the C5ISR Center to pull the key competencies together from across all the tactical network spaces. We have engineers who understand next-gen antennas, amplifier technology, modems, spectrum and cryptography. All that brainpower comes together during our experimentation, and that’s what’s going to deliver the goodness,” Monteleone said.
CCDC C5ISR Center