Col. William Harding, vice commander, Military Satellite Communications System Wing, Space and Missile Systems Center, Los Angeles Air Force Base, directs acquisition planning, programming, budgeting and operational support for a $46 billion portfolio for military satellite communication systems. Harding discusses the challenges ahead and the future of military satellite communications following the end of TSAT (Transformational Satellite System).
Via Satellite: What are the major challenges for the U.S. government in military satellite communications?
Harding: From the users’ perspective, the challenges lie in sustaining and enhancing existing capabilities, and we have to do that within the existing resources and without putting any undue risk on the user segment. We have to synchronize the space segment with the ground segment and that includes terminals and mission control elements. The synchronization challenge goes a little bit further. We have to synchronize the platforms in which we are putting the terminals on. If we are putting a communications terminal on a Humvee, they have to come back out of theater, and the same is true of any aircraft coming into depot to get some new terminal lines, so the challenge for us is to improve systems capabilities that will allow us to evolve the current satellite segment we have and basically enhance the ground capabilities we are providing to the warfighters. Every time we do that and it is not synchronized there are risks of costs growing substantially if we come up with a unique solution. As we learned with TSAT, a single solution can be incredibly capable, but it comes with a real high cost. Given the fiscal realities, we are in more of a sustain and enhance mode, and trying to get most out of the systems we have.
Via Satellite: Where are you in synchronizing these capabilities?
Harding: It is an ongoing challenge. We have always attempted to bring terminals and spacecraft to the field at precisely the same time. That is usually not completely possible, but we have processes and tools where we look at synchronization. Every time a new budget comes out, we are trying to find the right balance of providing the capabilities in space and on the ground and keeping it as optimized as possible.
Via Satellite: What impact have budgets had on your mission?
Harding:The reality we are looking at now is that we are trying to provide the capabilities with the satellite systems we have now and add prudent enhancements and capabilities to those systems, rather than going off and pursuing a large TSAT program. TSAT essentially was going to push the fiber and the network and the routers into space. At this point, we are not taking this approach any more. Essentially now, the systems we are now providing are providing bandwidth to the networks that are kind of on the edge, and allow those networks to connect to each other and the Global Information Grid. That approach by keeping the network itself terrestrial, either on the ground, or at sea or the air, it allows each of the services to take advantage of the advances in commercial equipment and applications, and over time synchronize with their own efforts. They will be in a position to deliver those capabilities. The other thing it allows us to be in a position to locally implement any results of [Department of Defense] efforts in cyber defence, for example.