I recently participated in the annual Hosted Payload Summit here in Washington, D.C. The critical issue of security for government users of hosted payloads was top of everyone’s mind. These users will not deploy their sensitive and critical applications on hosted payloads if they feel that cyber-security measures have not been well defined and successfully implemented. A lack of cyber and overall security could disable capabilities across the globe if unfriendly nations acted to create such chaos. I share these concerns.
XTAR has firsthand experience managing security issues on both sides of the hosted payload relationship. We host a payload on XTAR-EUR at 29 E.L. designed as back-up for the Spanish Ministry of Defense services and we operate a hosted payload on the Spainsat satellite at 30 W.L. Given this unique perspective, we can cite several factors that are essential to achieving security for government missions via hosted payloads.
By their very nature, hosted payloads can increase security for government missions by creating Resiliency and Disaggregation. These terms have become industry buzzwords because they are critical aspects of secure hosted payloads. Let me explain:
- Resiliency is the ability of a system architecture to continue to provide required capabilities in the face of system failures, environmental challenges and adversarial threats.
- Disaggregation is the dispersion of space-based missions, functions or sensors across multiple systems spanning one or more orbital planes, platforms, hosts or domains.
Hosted payloads can be used to achieve resiliency through disaggregation. The DoD can create an architecture that is much more challenging to disrupt by dispersing its payloads on multiple commercial satellites in orbit. Because its more difficult and complex to degrade, disruptions are minimized and adversaries are deterred. In the event of interference, the overall effect is mitigated by maintaining the functionality through the other space assets in the constellation.
The security of hosted payloads for government use must also be addressed on an end-to-end architecture level, including both ground and space segments. This will require continued discussions and coordination with industry by the government, especially the continued development of IP encryption standards. It is essential that these standards meet the broad range of government requirements so that encryption on commercial spacecraft will work seamlessly with the primary and hosted payloads as well as terrestrial infrastructure.
Finally, in this era of shrinking government budgets, security requirements for hosted payloads must be addressed in a manner that is not cost prohibitive, or the hosted payload model will die on the vine. There is plenty of evidence coming from both industry and various studies within DoD that suggest that industry can provide these capabilities cost-effectively. Given the opportunity to provide its services to the Government, industry has displayed its willingness and aptitude to use commercial business model economics to meet stringent security requirements.
The working group tasked to accomplish Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics) Frank Kendall’s 90-Day Study on COMSATCOM acquisition reform appears to have veered off track. We are hearing reports that it will go no further with Mr. Kendall’s core assignment until it addresses the question of DoD “bandwidth utilization”. This tangential issue is effectively holding hostage the study’s main goal of improving the efficiency of commercial satcom acquisition and ensuring that DoD gets the best ROI from all its satcom. Examining how efficiently DoD employs the COMSATCOM bandwidth currently on lease is a distraction from the intended scope and objectives of the 90-Day Study.
As a taxpayer, I applaud DoD’s interest in getting the best available return on investment — no responsible business person wants to see our government waste money on space segment capacity or missiles, any more than on toilet paper. Certainly opportunities exist to squeeze out waste from DoD’s COMSATCOM and MILSATCOM resources, including bandwidth utilization. I believe I speak for the commercial COMSATCOM industry at large when I say we share DoD’s cost-cutting concerns; we are prepared to assist in achieving this objective. However, a discussion on utilization is secondary to the core acquisition reform assignment Mr. Kendall gave this working group. The primary task is to develop new acquisition models and establish a more efficient, elastic and cost-effective leasing system. Performed correctly – and swiftly – the work of this group will ultimately result in an improved COMSATCOM utilization equation. Which in turn will enhance the DoD’s ROI.
Unpredictability and variability are the hallmarks of DoD bandwidth requirements – and therefore its utilization. Attempts to study bandwidth utilization and leasing volume are quickly outdated. Case in point: Few in the industry predicted the exponential growth which resulted from AISR technologies like the wide-area surveillance sensor system “Gorgon Stare”. Certainly, no one predicted the spike in demand resulting from 9/11 – or the subsequent troop build ups in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So let’s get on with the task at hand. Kendall’s working group on COMSATCOM acquisition reform must not get sidetracked by peripheral issues. Maintaining focus on the assigned task is the only way the DoD can quickly and efficiently address inevitable changes in satcom demand – while delivering viable ROI for the taxpayers.
General William L. Shelton, Air Force Space Command, in recent remarks described DoD’s current spending on space programs of record as “locked in” until the mid-2020s. Concluding DoD is locked into the current spending path without viable alternatives for ten or more years belies the many good reform efforts of other parties. These include the DoD’s Sec. Kendall; the Defense Business Board; industry recommendations such as our Suggestions for Better Buying Power paper, and even Congress’ recent inquiry by the Senate Armed Services Committee into the right mix of commercial-to-military bandwidth. Based on building tensions in the Asia Pacific region – and the DoD’s escalating pivot to Asia – it is critical that we plan for better, smarter buying. We need to get this effort done right, and get it right now. (more…)
The Senate Armed Services Committee recently requested five-, 10-, and 25-year strategic plans from DoD for the appropriate blend of military and commercial satellite bandwidth. Presumably, the committee is seeking cost-avoidance in the present and cost-savings in the long run. I have not actually seen any attempt at this type of comparison for several years. Industry is eager to prove its value and capabilities, but DoD has not been forthcoming in releasing all its raw costs for accurate comparison.
Unless the Committee requires an apples-to-apples comparison of the costs involved in defining such a military/commercial bandwidth strategy, any supposed comparison of the aggregate cost will be meaningless. (more…)
The discussion in ANALYSIS: Avoiding the China Comsat Trap by Ben Iannotta in Deep Dive Intelligence, June 17, 2013, on the debate revolving around the DoD’s recent purchase of satellite capacity from a Chinese company, helps to focus on the key issue: the U.S. military buys commercial satellite bandwidth with a process that inevitably increases costs and that supposes commercial providers will have a perennial supply of capacity for the military.
XTAR applauds efforts from OSD to engage trusted commercial satellite operators who have supported the military for years. Through true collaboration – where both parties are in close dialogue during planning and execution – we can change acquisition policy into a sensible and sustainable long-term buying process. The DoD will finally enjoy well-planned, cost-effective and high utility commercial satellite resources.
Let’s make this a reality for our warfighters and our national security.
The recent vilification of the use of a Chinese satellite to fulfill a U.S. DoD operational communications requirement in Africa is not surprising. Intuitively, using a satellite owned and controlled by a country whose policies and actions are in direct opposition to those of the U.S. does not make sense. Congressman John Garamendi of the House Armed Service Committee stated, very clearly, that we must “remain vigilant in protecting our communications data.”
Domestic commercial satellite operators who support the DoD, including XTAR, have made significant investments in Information Assurance (IA) capabilities dictated by DISA and DoD. We have been working tremendously hard to ensure that we take the highest precautions to allay Congressman Garamendi’s justified concerns. Commercial operators have incurred significant out-of-pocket costs to implement the IA standards dictated by the DoD without any commitment of future contracts. We have also been trying to resurrect the Mission Assurance Working Group (MAWG) to collaborate with the DoD to better manage operational data and to respond to external threats to mission capabilities. Also, several commercial operators in the industry have also been working with the DoD to suggest mechanisms for them to become more efficient buyers of commercial space capabilities – see our “Seven Ways” paper issued a few months ago.
Proponents of wholly government-owned satellite systems are using this Chinese issue to reinforce their arguments for buying more systems like WGS to fulfill military needs, rather than relying on commercial space segment. But it doesn’t have to be an either/or scenario: Either buy more WGS birds or rely on Chinese satellites to fulfill our military’s satellite communications needs. (more…)
Each time a new WGS satellite is launched, it strikes me to read the media coverage. I find it nearly always includes quotes from DoD representatives claiming that WGS has 10 times the capacity of a DSCS satellite, or that WGS is the DOD’s highest capacity communications satellite system. These claims, while technically accurate, are misleading and not relevant in today’s world of high-throughput satellites and constrained budgets. Widely reported and sometimes without deeper investigation, they detract from the real issue: WGS does not offer now, nor will the planned constellation when fully deployed, the same throughput and capacity which can be gained on many commercial satellites.
There are plenty of examples of media coverage like this – some new, some old. Let’s put aside the fact that, as far as survivability, WGS satellites are, in important ways, less capable than the DSCS system they are replacing. DSCS birds are hardened against nuclear attack while their WGS “replacements” have no greater capability to resist such attacks than any COMSATCOM satellite.
Instead, let’s focus on bandwidth. Designed in 1995 with only minor updates to its capabilities since then, each WGS satellite is reported to provide at least 2.4 Gbps of throughput to the warfighter via its X- and Ka-band payloads – for a combined total of 1.5 GHz of space segment capacity. (I’ll be generous and accept WGS proponents’ throughput claims even when USAF personnel themselves report disappointing results in actual throughputs achieved.) This WGS performance pales in comparison to a typical COMSATCOM satellite launched within the last ten years! (more…)
This article, Space Attacks: Technology And Contracting Shifts May End Market Dominance by Aaron Mehta in C4ISR Digital Edition, May 31, 2013, highlights the key issues that DoD is tackling—how to lower costs while creating a more resilient architecture. Disaggregation through hosted payloads is one approach that will help the Department create the strong, secure, affordable satellite capability needed for the future. The hosted payload model will bring critical force-enabling technology to the front line warfighter both quickly and efficiently using the economies and investments of commercial satellite operators who have long supported DOD and advocated for a permanent role in the architecture to provide distributed capability and resilience. This includes XTAR whose sole mission is to support the Government user. The issue, as correctly identified by General Shelton, is institutional inertia, the “naysayers” who want the status quo to remain unchanged. Embrace the future! Those who do will be better placed to take advantage of the terrific capabilities and technology offered by the commercial satellite operator community.
As the House Armed Services Committee reviews much needed policy changes in commercial SATCOM capacity acquisition, it is vitally important that both Congress and their colleagues at the Pentagon recognize the following key issues. Long-term contracts work not only because they assure appropriate amounts of bandwidth are available, but of equal importance, because they offer industry the commercial certainty necessary to build and deploy solutions which are designed precisely to meet the government’s requirements for advanced capabilities.
Without a clear and certain commitment from the Government to provide stable income, satellite operators will be reticent to invest, and DoD will be left with the only option to spend scarce financial resources building and operating expensive systems which could be provided by trusted operators at far less cost.
XTAR applauds Congress and DoD, led by Under Secretary Kendall, for the bold leadership to achieve the policy reform recommended by the Defense Business Board. XTAR is committed to supporting this process however it can.
Today, there exist numerous satellite operators which have spent millions of dollars meeting or exceeding U.S. Government requirements for information assurance and operational compatibility. Of course, XTAR is one of them. With this in mind, I noted with great interest recent criticism of DoD’s decision to buy from a DISA-approved integrator commercial space segment capacity on a Chinese-owned APSTAR satellite in order to address AFRICOM requirements. Critics hyped that decision as an example of the inevitable outcome of DoD’s excessive reliance on the commercial satellite industry. One such critic representing the Aerospace Industries Association, a trade group which lobbies for the defense industry, said the lease “underscores the limitations” of not investing enough U.S. money in non-classified military satellite programs and “depending only on the commercial market for national security telecom requirements”. These critics claim that this event is proof of the need to expand MILSATCOM resources like WGS.
This is entirely the wrong conclusion to draw!
Under DISA’s standard guidelines, the APSTAR capacity either met or exceeded the minimum mission assurance standards necessary to fulfill AFRICOM’s needs, or military personnel waived that requirement and accepted any risk to the AFRICOM mission.
Concerned lawmakers and others would do right to focus on the real deficiencies underscored in this example. Namely, the APSTAR case highlights the limitations of MILSATCOM combined with a COMSATCOM acquisition policy which fails to capitalize on all the potential benefits available from trusted commercial operators. (more…)