Building a More Resilient SATCOM – Protected Communications
With the rise of network-centric warfare, the connectivity and situational awareness delivered by satellite communications (SATCOM) has never been more vital. Potential adversaries are experimenting with ways to disrupt the satellite bandwidth that provides our forces with critical ISR superiority in theater.
Intelsat General Corporation’s (“IGC”) Protected Communications Team is chartered to identify, research, and employ various levels of protection for our customers’ bandwidth and services to improve resiliency and reliability in a contested electromagnetic environment. Our efforts in the Protected Communications environment will ensure our customers are operating in the most secure SATCOM environment available from the commercial industry.
Protection comes in many differing forms; Threat Identification and Education, Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTP’s), resilient waveforms, signal cancellation, carrier identification, and the ability to geolocate and identify adversaries. IGC’s Protected Communications Team is investigating all these types of protection, so as to provide a defense-in-depth approach to protection and resiliency.
The existing threats vary from repurposed SATCOM systems used as jammers to purpose-built barrage jammers capable of a variety of jamming techniques. Our team has studied these threats and identified a variety of mitigating techniques and material solutions to provide a defense-in-depth approach and tailor our solutions to each customer and their particular mission needs. I discuss some of these solutions in order of effectiveness in the following paragraphs.
TTP’s enable our government customers to withstand a certain level of interference, or jamming, and still be able to communicate despite the effects of the offending signal. Some of these TTP’s might include planning around the interferer, increasing power, beam shaping, beam steering, and other effective methods to operate in the presence of an interfering signal.
For example, assuming an interferer is transmitting a continuous wave (CW) carrier and causing interference to a fixed frequency, the user could simply be moved away from the CW carrier to plan around (i.e. mask) the interfering carrier so as to maintain effective communications.
Increasing power may work against certain jammers — however, the resultant effect of increasing power may be more detrimental to the satellite and/or other users than it is worth. Beam steering and beam shaping are two techniques, which can be quite effective. Beam shaping or beam steering can effectively remove the jammer from the uplink footprint of the satellite and reduce or eliminate its ability to interfere with users.
Of course, in order for beam shaping or steering to be effective the location of the jammer must be known and the users must not be too close to the geographic location of the jammer. Intelsat’s EpicNG class of satellites will enable IGC to employ these techniques for our customers.
The ability to geolocate and identify the source of interferers or jammers is paramount. IGC works closely with our corporate parent, Intelsat, to obtain geolocation of interferers in an effort to minimize the effects of interfering signals from both a time and breadth perspective. Further, IGC can also access other geolocation resources belonging to our customer organizations.
Carrier Identification (CID) is a newer technology, which is being adopted by the commercial industry and will enable accidental interferers to be quickly identified and contacted to resolve interference cases. When fully employed across the SATCOM ecosystem, CID will also help distinguish between legitimate SATCOM users and jammers. With CID, Satellite operators will now immediately be able to distinguish a legitimate SATCOM user from users who either refuse to adopt the CID technology or nefarious characters bent on disrupting the communications of authorized users.
Some military users are concerned about force protection and anonymity of their ground users, and are conducting their own evaluation of the efficacy and security of CID. Of immediate concern is that not all SATCOM users will adopt CID, which will make identification of the nefarious characters more troublesome. It is expected that users who choose to operate without CID will eventually become a minority.
In order to address security of military, and other government users, identification and location of end user information should only be available to personnel within military or government organizations and maintained at a classified level, so as to protect the identification and/or location of such users. Commercial satellite operators will only see the CID number associated with an interferer and call the designated organization to report the interference; it will then be incumbent upon the designated organization to contact the end user and resolve the interference event.
More complex protection techniques include technical solutions, such as direct sequence spread spectrum (DSSS), frequency hopping, signal cancellation, and other Protected Tactical Waveforms (“PTWs”) in development at this time. IGC is actively involved with several organizations to develop and, eventually, offer these technical solutions to our customers.
Our Protected Communications Team is working directly with several modem manufacturers to identify and test a variety of new modems under development in the industry. These technologies include both terrestrial and space based solutions, which will offer our customers the best and most resilient SATCOM available from the commercial industry. Eventually PTWs are expected to rival that of complex military protection capabilities already on orbit at a fraction of the cost. In addition, our solutions will be available to a myriad of tactical users, regardless of platform or frequency band.
In March 2014, IGC engineers teamed with L-3 Communications Systems West (L-3 CSW) and successfully tested L-3 CSW’s new modem, which was designed around the U.S. Air Force’s PTW. The test, which was conducted using an Intelsat satellite emulator, measured the modem and PTW performance against various interference and jamming tactics and waveforms. The success of this test is encouraging and helps IGC pave the way toward offering protection, resiliency, and modernization of services for our customers.
IGC is excited about the capabilities we are discovering for our customers and will continue to lead the industry in providing resilient, uninterrupted, protected SATCOM services. Space is getting more and more crowded and competitive – we will continue to work hard to protect our customers.