Mobile SATCOM: Why an industry partnership is critical to the government’s future in satellite communications

25 April 2016

Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch

  • us-government

  • broadband
  • voice

Years from now, government and industry leaders may recall this era as the ‘Age of SATCOM Integration’: a period when we recognized the inefficiencies and, ultimately, incoherence of the historic acquisition models and worked together as partners to provide relevant SATCOM capabilities for an improved integrated operational architecture.

The high standard of performance will be made possible, to a large degree, by commercial satellite communication providers who invest in SATCOM solutions with U.S. government users in mind, thereby, augmenting military satellite resources cost-effectively, wherever and whenever needed. The private sector appreciates the complexities of DoD architectures, recognizes the budget restrictions and will play an essential role in this integrated SATCOM architecture of the future.

At the National Space Symposium last week in Colorado Springs, Colorado I had the opportunity to present a paper titled, “Warfighters Deserve More Capabilities – Wherever They Are.” I emphasized that DoD and commercial satellite leaders should seek to work together in the spirit of a full partnership, to remove inefficient, siloed ‘status quo’ acquisition procedures and practices in favor of a more streamlined, consolidated model. With this, a synchronized, integrated satellite communication architecture will take hold in which commercial SATCOM emerges as an integral solution for warfighter SATCOM requirements. The architecture will enable increased, end-to-end capability and interoperability among ground, terminal and space segments, including user terminals designed to work in multiple bands across both military and commercial satellite systems.

Up to the beginning of the 21st Century, ‘status quo’ worked: There were sufficient military-based satellite resources to cover most operations. After 9/11, however, the very face of warfare changed. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan created the current state of highly mobile, asymmetrical engagement. Ground, air and sea units must be ready to go anywhere, at any time – and depend upon mobile, data-intensive applications, such as streaming video for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR). They don’t care about which branch of the military ‘owns’ which part of the communication architecture, or whether the actual technology is supplied by a DoD or commercial provider. They merely want results – or effects in military parlance, in the form of maximum capability, flexibility and resiliency.

Partnership via SATCOM as a Service

Through a productive partnership, military users will benefit dramatically through an emerging concept that we call SATCOM as a Service. This robust and global approach integrates complex solutions within an end-to-end managed service architecture, creating greater suitability, security, functionality, flexibility and resiliency. With this, warfighter access SATCOM on-demand with seamless availability of communication capability, equipment terminals, backhaul, capacity and desired features.

SATCOM as a Service is ideal for the global, mobile age; users travel from one location to another and simply “plug in” for instant connectivity. All they need is an IP address. In this sense, SATCOM as a Service is about ubiquity, an “anytime/anyplace” state of access through which users leverage both COMSATCOM and MILSATCOM as integrated resources in a complementary model. U.S. and allied troops depend upon mobile, mission-critical and often data-intensive applications, such as streaming video for ISR for their operational effectiveness. It is immaterial to them whether it is supplied by trusted commercial providers or the DoD. Warfighters only want/require mission success and reliable communications is the enabler. An integrated SATCOM architecture developed in partnership with the SATCOM industry is instrumental to meeting the national security requirements of today and tomorrow

Toward this goal, SATCOM as a Service empowers military units with more robust and globally available capability without the complexity of stitching together disparate networks.

Partnerships – not rivalries – build integrated environments. This is more about changing mindsets than coming up with something technically dazzling: There are plenty of “Us vs. Them” sentiments when it comes to going with either government or commercial providers, instead of pursuing an integrated ‘One SATCOM’ framework. We must collaborate together so private industry complements existing government strengths by filling in gaps and enhancing the robustness of the architecture, therefore, improving protection, resiliency and global portability, alongside efficiencies and cost effectiveness.

To obtain a copy of the “Warfighters Deserve More Capabilities – Wherever They Are” paper visit:

About the author

Rebecca M. Cowen-HirschRebecca M. Cowen-Hirsch is Inmarsat Senior Vice President for Government Strategy and Policy in the United States Government (USG) Business Unit, based in Washington. Ms. Cowen-Hirsch brings 25 years of defense, aerospace, and executive leadership experience to Inmarsat. As a decorated member of the Senior Executive Service (SES) in the U.S. Department of Defense, she served as the Program Executive Officer for SATCOM, Teleport and Services at the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) and in several key SES executive positions including the first Vice Component Acquisition Executive for DISA, with executive management responsibility for the acquisition oversight and horizontal integration of DISA’s products, services, and programs. Ms Cowen-Hirsch established the Defense Spectrum Office, serving as its first Director where her responsibilities included the development of national security spectrum strategic plans and policy, and national and international negotiation of defense spectrum issues. Her broad defense career ranged from systems engineering, experimental flight test, program management, spectrum management, and a wide range of executive leadership positions. Ms. Cowen-Hirsch was a rated experimental flight test engineer; was the first female civilian Mission Commander for the Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft (ARIA) mission, and was the recipient of an Exemplary Service Medal for her years of selfless service to the Department of Defense. Ms Cowen-Hirsch has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering, conducted post-graduate studies in Engineering Management, and is a graduate of the University of Tennessee Space Institute Experimental Flight Test Program; the DoD’s Acquisition Management Program; and the Cambridge Senior Executive Leadership Program.

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