Today, the ease of constant connectivity permeates everyday civilian life in thousands of ways, but on the battlefield, connectivity isn’t just a nicety, it’s a necessity.
In comparison with the private sector, U.S. and coalition military forces often have trouble matching the speed, security, resilience and cloud-enabled capabilities of today’s civilian satellite networks, especially in remote locations. According to the first-ever State of Military Communications survey by Government Business Council (GBC), underwritten by Viasat Inc., over two-thirds of Department of Defense (DoD) respondents said they “expect the same level of connectivity and access to trusted and timely information on the battlefield” that they receive in the civilian world.
“Today, we believe it’s increasingly becoming our duty to provide our men and women in uniform with the same kind of connectivity capabilities they’ve come to depend upon using in everyday civilian life,” says Ken Peterman, the president of Government Systems at Viasat. However, it’s clear the U.S. DoD needs to do more to enhance connectivity capabilities across today’s battlespace.
“The culture of U.S. DoD acquisition practices is centered on an outdated system that often takes seven to 10 years before new technology reaches the hands of a warfighter,” Peterman says. “With the rapid pace of innovation taking place in today’s private sector, the DoD must adapt its thinking in order to deliver technology capabilities to warfighters when they are needed most. By working with private sector technology leaders like Viasat, the DoD can deliver new capabilities with unprecedented speed – all at a lower cost and low risk to the U.S. taxpayer.”
With the demand for satellites increasing and a “new seriousness” about modern technological connectivity, there is an opportunity for the DoD and coalition forces to leverage advancements of the steep innovation trajectories of today’s private sector. Although the DoD led technology development for decades, it’s clear newer, faster, more flexible and cost-effective technology capabilities that leverage the latest in communications, cloud technology, enhanced cybersecurity and artificial intelligence have emerged from today’s private sector. The slowmoving acquisition model the DoD is using today is causing technology gaps in U.S. defense communications capabilities. In order for the U.S. to keep pace with fast-moving adversaries also looking to enhance capabilities, the acquisition model needs to change to speed up the adoption and deployment of new technologies.
“In the private sector, we are always pushing toward optimizing, improving and evolving technology capabilities and it’s clear the DoD is moving in the right direction, but more needs to be done,” says Peterman. “To maintain an edge across the battlespace, it will be critical for the DoD to move quickly to test, empirically measure and rapidly deploy capabilities available today from private sector technology leaders.”
Streamlined Acquisition in the Short-Term Offers Better Connectivity in the Long-Term
It’s no secret that militaries across the globe are investing in more advanced battlefield communications. Countries like China and Russia are testing the waters when it comes to using private sector AI and cloud-enabled tools to communicate across warzones. But the U.S. isn’t necessarily matching this pace of innovation.
“U.S. DoD technology is still dominant across all domains,” says Peterman. “However, we need to pay attention to the changing defense landscape.”
According to the State of Military Communications Survey, 53% of respondents say they feel U.S. military communications rank on par with or falling behind adversaries. “This data shows there’s a real need to speed up deployment of new technologies,” says Peterman.
To improve the acquisition process for new network technologies, 59% of the survey’s respondents view embracing more private sector capabilities as an important tactic. Meanwhile 70% believe that increasing acquisition pathways for rapid prototyping will help organizations adapt. This indicates that in order to improve military communications, DoD stakeholders can turn to streamlined acquisition and more private sector partnerships.
Flexibility, speed and resilience will be key to enhanced connectivity across the battlespace
As warfighters seek out resilient communications that match the level of connectivity they experience in civilian life, capabilities like Viasat’s Hybrid Adaptive Networks (HAN) offer military forces one of the most resilient, secure, high-speed and advanced satellite architectures ever developed. HANs weave networks together into a single ecosystem of commercial or purpose-built DoD satellites – offering a range of new capabilities, significantly enhanced security and resilience, and the ability to bring cloud-empowerment to life across the battlespace.
To this effect, cloud-empowerment is becoming an increasingly important tool on the battlefield, and one that can only be enabled through new pathways like the HAN. According to the Viasat and GBC survey, over 60% of respondents agree or strongly agree that cloud-enabled technologies will “play an increasingly significant role in enhancing the military’s decision-making capabilities.” In addition, as found in a recent Defense Business Board report, partners also highly value resiliency, affordability, connectivity and security, which can’t be sacrificed during critical missions. Concepts such as the HAN offer the best of both worlds.
“Advanced, high-speed, resilient and secure connectivity is the underlying enabler and fundamental requirement for cloud empowerment — it’s even more important when you’re an element of military force that has to deploy in areas where there’s no infrastructure, leaving troops more susceptible to adversary disruptions,” says Peterman.
Layered Cybersecurity Will Ensure Infallible Military Communications
The U.S. military has leveraged satellites from the private sector in the past, but they haven’t quite mastered a critical comprehensive approach to security that DoD missions demand, recent reports show. Over 60% of respondents to the State of Military Communications survey reported that improvements in defense communications technology should focus on strengthening the DoD’s ability to “maintain secure connectivity in the face of cyberattacks and denial of service attempts by adversaries.”
Cybersecurity capabilities offered by networks like HAN can be a key part of what enables future military communications, including the Internet of Battlefield Things and smart technologies like AI-based cognitive decision aides that will elevate troops’ situational awareness. But to enhance connectivity, taking a holistic approach to cybersecurity will be critical to bringing new capabilities forward.
The network diversity of private sector partners feeds a more creative and faster way to proactively compose layers of network security to accelerate protection against attackers, according to Peterman. For example, “cyber-warriors” in Viasat’s Cyber Security Operations Center analyze over 4.5 billion security events across Viasat’s network in just a 24-hour period. In addition, by having such a diverse user-base, which has grown to include government and military customers; residential consumers; community Wi-Fi hotspots; enterprise users and maritime subscribers, Viasat is able to analyze and defend against some of the world’s most sophisticated cyber threats.
Peterman argues that by baking cybersecurity services into architectures like the HAN at the network layer, military and government users will have access to the resilience and security needed to enable new capabilities on the battlefield and maintain the tactical edge needed across today’s technology driven battlespace.
The private sector is developing and deploying new capabilities at a rapid pace, but it is clear the DoD acquisition model must continue to evolve to outpace fast-moving threats from near-peer adversaries.
“At Viasat, we aim to be a trusted and strategic DoD partner—a national asset,” said Peterman. “We look forward to continuing to work with our military leaders, veterans, technologists, policy makers and warfighters to find better ways to bring new capabilities forward when they’re needed most.”