Future of Military Satellite Systems
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The use of space systems to support military activities and enhance defense-related capabilities has increased exponentially since their first application in 1965 with the Initial Defense Satellite Communications System. Although the first major application was for communications services, space-based defense capabilities have now expanded to provide a wide range of other types of services. Today these applications include navigation, targeting, mapping, remote sensing, surveillance and meteorological tracking, and prediction. In short, 50 years of expanded space-based capabilities for military and defense-related services seem destined to be followed by 50 years of even greater capabilities. Thus, there will be expanded competence in terms of new types of space hardware and new applications. Further, entirely new capabilities will be added. These will likely include expanded use of artificial intelligence and increased focus on cybersecurity and space situational awareness, on-orbit servicing, and perhaps even active orbital debris removal.
This chapter examines all of these trends and discusses whether some of these trends will relate to improved commercial satellite capabilities, particularly in the context of dual use of commercial networks and hosted payload systems.
KeywordsArtificial intelligence Cybersecurity Dual use Fiber optic satellite ring Global Information Grid (GIG) Global Positioning System (GPS) Hyperspectral Imaging Internetworking Internet of Things Intersatellite Links (ISLs) Laser Light Communications Meteorological Satellites NATO Orbital space debris Satellite Services to the Edge Space Situational Awareness Transformational Satellite System
In 1965, the Initial Defense Satellite Communication System was launched as one of the three first Satcom networks ever launched into orbit around planet earth. Intelsat and the Soviet Molniya systems for domestic communications were the other two launched in 1965. Since that time, defense satellite networks have played a significant and ever-growing role in military operations and activities. These defense-related space systems have expanded from telecommunications and broadcasting to an ever-expanding role. Today, tremendously more capable satellites are utilized by defense forces not only for communications but also for weather monitoring and forecasting; for earth observation, remote sensing, and surveillance; and for navigation, mapping, and targeting. Satellite communications in support of tactical military communications now provide a wide range of broadband communications and terrain-based geo-location services to extremely small micro-terminals and handheld devices. This allows broadband and video-based services to be delivered right to the battlefield edge. These space-based systems can provide not only “communications” services but also up-to-date weather forecast, topographical maps, and information about the location of potentially hostile forces. The most current systems can also collect information and provide command and control for drones, unmanned aerial systems (UAS), and high altitude platform systems (HAPS).
These types of highly capable satellite systems blanket the world and are interconnected with terrestrial and wireless radio networks. Such sophisticated space-based systems, with all these capabilities, are typified by the US-based Global Information Grid (GIG), but parallel capabilities are also being developed in Europe, Japan, and even in other countries such as China, India, and Russia, albeit not currently to the level represented by the GIG.
And current space-based capabilities do not stop there. There are even sensors in satellites such as the US- deployed Global Positioning System (GPS) system that are designed to monitor nuclear explosions. There are also networks to maintain situational awareness in space to detect rocket launches and to monitor orbital debris. Defense space-based systems are often designed with onboard protective systems against radiation and electromagnetic pulses as well as armor against micrometeorites and other possible hazards. Thus, one of the more recent trends has been to utilize commercial satellite systems, a process that is called dual use, to support a number of military or defense services such as to provide television and radio programs to overseas troops or video imaging from drones. These commercially based satellite services are typically lower in cost, since commercial systems are not radiation-hardened or involve elaborately protected hardware, and can reasonably be used for non-tactical purposes.
The future will, at one level, be more of the same, only better in terms of higher throughput, smaller and more mobile systems, higher resolution imaging, and better meteorological systems and navigation accuracy. At another level, there will be true innovations in both the hardware and the applications/services. The hardware will likely include optical communications intersatellite links (ISLs) in space as well as so-called megaLEO satellite networks in space that will be optimized for Internet Protocol services. Even broader band services linked to artificial intelligent networks can not only be linked to ground command and control centers, troops, and hardware but also to robotic and cybernetic units programmed for a number of tasks that range from disaster relief and recovery to actual war-fighting operations. One of the continuing concerns with regard to all of these innovations will be cybersecurity and the possible “infecting” of artificially intelligent systems to the extent that there could be a loss of control of various classes of weapons systems and robotic systems.
Finally there will be ongoing concerns with regard to space situational awareness of all types of potential space weapons systems There are also continuing and indeed growing concerns about orbital debris that could become an even larger problem with the deployment of large-scale LEO constellations, particularly in the 500–1200 km altitude range and especially in the polar regions.
Advanced Satellite Capabilities
One of the most recent developments in satellite communications is the advent of high-throughput satellites (HTS) that are 10–50 times more capable than satellites of only a few years ago. These satellites are not only deployed for commercial systems but in defense systems as well. Each one of the six US Defense Department’s Wideband Global Satellites (WGS), for instance, has nearly 5 Gb/s of switchable throughput capacity that is available in both the X-band and Ka-band. Each of the WGS satellites represents, for instance, 12 times the capacity of a DSCS III military satellite that was deployed only a few years ago. Although this is a US system, it has direct participation by Australia, Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and New Zealand which are all equipped with terminals that can connect to these WGS satellites (Wideband Global Satcom Satellite 2015).
This six satellite wideband system is able to provide broadband services to armed forces around the world and to small highly mobile units. The very flexible XTAR system that operates in the X-band is also highly reconfigurable to provide services to conflict areas on land, littoral, or ocean areas on demand. It is likely that new satellite defense systems that are deployed by the USA, Europe, Japan, and other countries will deploy new satellite hardware that has the following characteristics: (i) increasing broadband capabilities delivered to ever smaller and mobile terminals at the “edge” of networks in the field, (ii) networks that are optimized for Internet services and designed to have lower transmission latency, and (iii) systems that are optimized to connect to an optical ring of satellites that can support broader band and lower latency connections.
Networking to the Edge
During past conflicts, the headquarters and command centers in overseas locations had key information from the surveillance satellites, weather satellites, or navigation and positioning satellites, but there were frequent problems in communicating that information directly to the front where hostilities were being waged. With satellite systems such as XTAR and WGS and with the dual use of commercial satellite systems such as Iridium, Globalstar, and Inmarsat, it is no longer true that there is limited defense-related information provided to the “edge” of conflict zones. The increased capability of new defense satellite systems will only add to the capability to provide broadband, video, and imaging data to the front in future years. Today, this capability is limited to the most technologically advanced defense networks, but in the future, this type of capability will become more common around the world. Dual use of the most advanced commercial satellite systems will also augment systems such as WGS and XTAR and allow ever smaller micro-terminals and handheld devices to be used.
Today in the commercial world, new satellite networks involving very large low earth orbit (LEO) networks are being planned by commercial entities. These networks such as One Web and SpaceX are sometimes referred to as megaLEO constellations. The concept is to provide low-cost broadband services in the developing countries in the more underserved parts of the world in the equatorial regions and to also provide much lower latency transmission speeds. The orbits that are being planned for such networks in the 500–1000 km range are 20–40 times closer to the surface of the world and thus for a ground station to satellite to ground station hop can involve transmission times that are 40–80 times faster than a link from ground to GEO orbit and back to the ground.
The first such systems, like o3b, One Web, and SpaceX, are designed to support commercial service requirements, but such new LEO constellations might also be used for military/dual-use applications. The commercial spectrum and the military frequency allocations are, of course, different, but there can be crossover use in dual-use systems, and these applications can be expected to continue in the future years. As all forms of communications and networking move to be more and more Internet Protocol based and global in nature, there is interest in and desire to use satellites that are Internet friendly and thus much faster in end-to-end transmissions.
There are many challenges here. These challenges include finding clever ways to minimize interference between LEO constellations and GEO satellite networks, avoiding collisions with orbital debris that has not been removed from orbit, and creating systems that are fully reliable and cost effective. The satellite networks can be made to be reasonably low cost, but the user terminals on the ground must be able to receive signals effectively from satellites that are passing rapidly overhead. This means installing relatively expensive ground systems that can track the overhead satellites or using relatively low gain terminals that can continuously receive the signal via tracking or by other means yet to be clearly understood and certainly not yet developed.
Another way of explaining this is that it is likely that the development of new technology to support low-cost ground systems that can operate effectively and reliably to low earth orbit constellations is a very large challenge. Large-scale constellations that would involve very rapid transition from beam to beam and even satellite to satellite constitute a major reliability and continuity of service issue. The Iridium and Globalstar LEO constellations that involved the switching of beam to beam once a minute, and from satellite to satellite about every 8–10 min, posed a very difficult challenge in terms of smooth and reliable transitions.
The creation of large-scale LEO constellations with a 1000–4000 satellites will pose major concerns in a number of areas. These concerns include reliable switching between beams and satellites as these satellites move into view and then disappear over the horizon; significant challenges in the design, performance, and reasonably low cost of user transceivers; and finally with regard to minimizing interference between such LEO and MEO satellites and those satellites in geosynchronous orbit.
Optical Intersatellite Links and the GIG
There is another approach to creating a military defense satellite network that could be optimized for Internet Protocol service. This could be accomplished by reducing satellite transmission paths and thus minimizing latency. There was a great deal of engineering and design effort invested in the concept of creating an optical ring of satellites in medium earth orbit. Such a new broadband infrastructure was envisioned by the US defense communications system under the name of the “transformational satellite network.”
The concept of the Transformational Satellite System (TSAT) was to provide orbit-to-ground laser communications. Throughput for the five-satellite constellation as initially envisioned could be up to 40 Gb/s. The problem was in getting funding for the estimated total program, which at the time of its cancelation was estimated to have cost of up to $26 billion for the entire constellation.
The so-called TSAT program was at one point seen as key to global net-centric operations and as such as the next stage in the development of space-based systems to support the Global Information Grid (GIG). As envisioned, the five-satellite constellation ring in medium earth orbit would allow the GIG to accommodate broadband users without terrestrial connections. In short, the objective was to achieve improved connectivity and data transfer capability and greatly increase the quality and throughput of satellite communications for the US and allied warfighters. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, responding to US Presidential guidance to curtail large-scale new military programs, canceled this ambitious program in the US military budget request for fiscal year 2010 (Brinton 2009).
The idea of an optical ring that could also support optical links from space to earth and earth to space, although canceled as part of the US military budget, is still very much alive and well in the current planning of a new commercial laser ring satellite network as envisioned in Laser Light Communications (addressed in chapter “New Millimeter, Terahertz, and Light-Wave Frequencies for Satellite Communications” on Millimeter Wave and Light Communications systems). Currently this commercial laser light communications system is being presented as a civilian commercial communications satellite network and not as a network to support military or defense links. It is significant to note that while there are separate radio waves (i.e., frequency spectrum allocations) for civilian communications and defense/military purposes, there is currently no process to allocate light wave spectrum for any type of allocation. This means that combining military and civilian/commercial communications services for optical-based laser services would be fully authorized and in no way restricted under current regulations for frequency allocations.
The Future of Dual Use and Hosted Payloads
This provides a good segue into the issue of dual use of commercial and defense satellite networks moving into future decades of satellite planning. Optical fiber networks on the ground and optical laser communications via satellite constellations in the future can be expected to support combined commercial and defense communications links as “dual-use” networks and become technologically expedient and economically efficient. The migration to very high radio frequency and optical spectrum, as noted above, could only serve to accelerate this current trend.
The other trend of deploying Internet-optimized satellite networks and especially the deployment of larger-scale satellite constellations also would seem to open the door to more opportunity to have hosted payloads. These could be designed and engineered to be added as supplemental payloads on constellations in low and medium earth orbit satellites networks.
Large GEO satellites have sufficient mass margin to host experimental packages for next-generation satellites, and thus Intelsat satellites have hosted such payloads as the Internet Router in Space experiment, as designed by Cisco (Cisco’s Space Router 2010).
The two examples of Iris on Intelsat 22 and the hosted payloads on Iridium Next that derive from the commercial satellite world have already been demonstrated in the defense satellite world as well. In short, hosted payloads are a growing trend in both the commercial and military/defense worlds. In some cases, military payloads might indeed fly on commercial satellites. Such “dual use” at the hardware level rather than just combined use still allows economies and a level of protection as being on a commercial carrier rather than just being a separate piece of military hardware.
The US Department of Defense, in order to maintain communications in this region, has also contracted with the Australian Defence Forces for 10 of these 20 channels (DoD, Australia 2012).
The chapter on hosted payloads will provide greater detail about currently planned initiatives for hosted payloads that are being actively pursued in military satellite system planning in a number of countries. This concept seems to provide a triple advantage in terms of cost economies. This is to say that such economies can be realized at three levels: (i) spacecraft design and manufacture, (ii) launch cost savings, and (iii) perhaps most significantly in terms of operational cost savings. The problem is that such hosted payload programs for critical military or defense programs may not have a recovery strategy if the satellites hosting such payloads should experience a significant loss of power, stabilization/pointing capability, or relevant transponders. In short, if the satellite system serving as host fails or has insufficient power to support the hosted platform, what is the backup plan? Hosted payloads have generally been successful to date. The backup plan and resilience questions will come to the fore when unexpected failures occur. Certainly one would be wise to invest some of the savings that can come from hosted payload operations in restoration capabilities.
The design of the interconnected Global Information Grid is based on the ability of all of its component parts to be free of cyber intercept and thus cybersecurity of its satellite components – which are potentially vulnerable to cyber attack. The Global Information Grid (GIG) as now envisioned is an all-encompassing communications project of the US defense forces, but on occasion it is also interconnected to NATO and its information and satellite networks.
The GIG is defined as a “globally interconnected, end-to-end set of information capabilities for collecting, processing, storing, disseminating, and managing information on demand to warfighters, policy makers, and support personnel” (Management of the Department of Defense Information Enterprise 2009). This strategic network is, of course, encrypted to protect it against unauthorized access. And it is the wireless and satellite-based part of this network that is most vulnerable to attack. Today there is a significant buildup around the world of cybersecurity efforts in most of the major countries in the world. As a result of cyber attacks against civilian, business, governmental, and defense sites that have increased over time, the United States and China are seeking a formal agreement to not engage in cyberspace intrusions against each other. Experts have speculated that if such a Sino-US agreement could be reached, it might become the basis of a network of agreements around the world (Sanger 2015). As a result of President Xi’s State visit to Washington, D.C. on September 24 and 25, 2015, high-level agreement on such a cybersecurity arrangement was reached in theory. Discussion of implementation details involving cabinet-level coordinative processes is now going forward. This type of trendsetting agreement is designed to protect civilian, business, governmental, and military-related websites, but its effectiveness and longer-term viability will only be proven in practice over time (Nakashima and Mufson 2015).
What is indeed clear is that satellites, in addition to terrestrial and submarine systems, need to be protected against cyber attacks in a number of ways. First and foremost, there needs to be encrypted systems to protect against fraudulent commands that can be sent to satellites by other than their system operators. In earlier times, there have been verified reports of even teenage hackers taking control of satellites as simply a prank. There are techniques that are used by system operators such as Intelsat to not only encrypt their commands to satellites, but a further requirement of a further authorization command from another command station location. Some 20 years ago, one of the major space agencies around the world did not have encryption protection on their satellites, but today all governmental agencies and private satellite operators have protective systems in place. Even tighter controls, such as independent authorization from two geographically remote locations for all spacecraft commands, is prudent practice.
What is now clear is that satellites need tight cybersecurity to protect both the spacecraft itself and all the information that they carry. A recent report on this subject contained the following alarming statement: “A group of Russian-speaking hackers is exploiting commercial satellites to siphon sensitive data from diplomatic and military agencies in the United States and Europe as well as to mask their location….” This group that is known as “TURLA,” which is based on the sophisticated malware that it utilizes, has also targeted Chinese, Japanese, and Russia sources as well as pharmaceutical research labs and other sensitive and protected information centers – as reported by Kaspersky Labs, a noted cybersecurity firm. This operation, which has been running from at least 2007–2015, has reportedly concentrated on “hijacked satellite connections to obtain data and to cover its tracks” according to a Kaspersky Labs spokesperson (Nakashima 2015).
In the past decade, there has been perhaps a tenfold increase in governmental and private cybersecurity staffing seeking to encrypt and create passcode and firewall protection against cyber criminals and cyber spies, but this activity has not been concentrated with regard to various types of transmission media. Most recently there has been a focus on wireless transmission media such as supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, microwave, and satellite links. There has also been increasing focus on so-called dark webs that trade in various aspects of computer crime, stolen credit card information, and the marketing of technology that can be used for cybercriminal activity. These efforts increasingly expose the degree to which dual use of commercial systems for military and defense-related activities creates vulnerable inroads into systems that are designed to be protected against unauthorized access. Thus, future military and defense-related satellite systems, whether dedicated military networks or commercial systems that are being used for strategic purposes, need to be encrypted and protected against all forms of cyber attacks (Pelton and Singh 2016).
Convergence on the Ground: Disaggregation in Space
This idea of consolidation of control facilities on the ground is one of the concepts that currently seem to be leading military planning for space systems. This means that as more and more capability is added in space for various types of communications and broadcasting, surveillance, remote sensing, navigation, nuclear explosions, and missile tracking, there can still be consolidated tracking, telemetry, and control facilities on the ground. Such consolidation on the ground can indeed be commercialized to save costs and allow interagency consolidation of control facilities. This type of thinking is currently being led by US military planners, but it is also being considered and implemented in Europe. In fact, in some cases, strategic space systems for Europe have been commercialized both in space and on the ground (Diamante 2015).
Advanced Coding, Processing, Autonomous Control, and Artificially Intelligent Systems Employed in Space Defense Networks
The design of today’s most advanced military and defense satellite is based on many factors, but advanced coding, processing, autonomous control, and artificial intelligence are perhaps among the most important in terms of adding capability and capacity at reduced cost and increased efficiency. These moves to greater efficiency, however, involve the move of controls from human response to automated decision-making. This concern about machine-coded response and how this might “go wrong” has been iterated many times in the Karel Capek play RUR, the “Terminator” movies, the Michael Crichton novel “Congo,” and most recently by space and technology leader Elon Musk. This is the ongoing concern of military space planners that are increasingly torn by the push toward greater efficiency and microsecond response times, on the one hand, versus the need for careful consideration and tempered response to crisis conditions, on the other.
There is thus focus on creating the ability to countermand controls and automated decision-making so that space systems of the future do not inadvertently create an unintended hostility or outbreak of war due to a defective “heuristic algorithm” similar to that reflected in “HAL” the computer in the film “2001: The Space Odyssey” made famous by Sir Arthur Clarke.
Orbital Space Debris and Military Satellite Networks
The general in charge of the NORAD tracking system for space situational awareness in late July 2015 said: “The satellite infrastructure that the Department of Defense (DoD) relies on for operational awareness is inefficient and is badly in need of modernization. The status quo isn’t acceptable, and changes must begin now” (Gen. John Hyten 2015).
Currently the US Space Defense system tracks about 22,000 orbital debris elements, primarily in low earth orbit and polar orbits. The focus is on these areas because it is in these orbits where most space debris objects currently are located. Furthermore it is where the most valuable US Space Defense assets are currently in orbit. Although the current ground and space-tracking systems are capable, they are not able to keep track of all potential threats in real time, especially with new plans to launch so-called megaLEO systems with potentially thousands of small satellites in LEO orbits in the range of 500–1200 km altitudes. The launch of 700 or so One Web and perhaps over 4000 Space X LEO satellites in gigantic constellations in the next few years will compound problems of accurate space situational awareness.
Security of Space-Based Defense Systems
The Initial Defense Satellite Communications system (DSCS) was launched about a half century ago in 1965, and at that time, space systems – separate from rocket and missile weapon systems – were simply not part of military or defense infrastructure. Today, virtually every aspect of modern military and defense systems is highly dependent on various types of space systems. Thus, there are mobile, rapid stop on-the-move, fixed, and broadcast communications satellite systems. There are meteorological, surveillance, remote sensing, and command and control systems. There are also navigation, missile, satellite and space debris tracking systems, and nuclear explosion monitoring systems. The modern defense armies, navies, and air forces are today greatly dependent on space systems on which hundreds of billions of dollars are expended.
Today, just 50 some years later, the security of these systems against hostile attack are vital to national and regional defense systems. There is some level of defense of these space systems by radiation hardening and armor-protection against orbital debris and micrometeorites, but this type of protection is not sufficient against a missile strike or even a high-powered laser or directed energy weapon. Thus, there are other protection strategies such as seeking to disguise or otherwise not disclose the orbital location of prime assets or to move certain functions to dual-use commercial facilities so that defense services are merged with commercial systems.
The speed of development of new space systems continues to accelerate. The latest high-throughput satellites, megaLEO constellations, advanced coding, processing, autonomous control, and artificially intelligent systems are adding great efficiency and capability to a wide range of space systems. New antenna design, automation, and consolidation of ground control systems will fuel new efficiency. Dual-use commercial systems and integration of space systems with UAVs, aircraft, and terrestrial networks will likewise add new capability and also serve to save cost. The various innovations discussed in this chapter are under active R&D in the USA, Europe, Japan, China, and even in other countries such as Israel, India, and the Republic of Korea.
There are several important new challenges for new and future military and defense satellite systems. One of the greatest challenges will involve the reliable design and operation of global laser communications rings to allow broadband and effective Internet Protocol-optimized services. These may first emerge as commercial systems that migrate to military systems. This is the reverse of the development concepts that were first envisioned with the TSAT program. The other challenges include coping with cybersecurity protection for space-based national security systems and systems and strategies to cope with orbital space debris and the threat they pose to vital strategic space systems.
The development of on-orbit servicing could also allow the ability to provide active orbital debris removal and thus provide a way to repair satellites, extend lifetimes, upgrade satellite capability, and also remove derelict spacecraft or upper stage rockets that threaten key space assets. There is a legal/regulatory problem with such new on-orbit capabilities in that these systems could be considered to be a space weapon. In short, a system that can link up with an element of space debris and deorbit could also do the same for military communications satellites or other military space systems.
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