SATCOM as a Service – a path forward for integrated SATCOM architecture of the future

12 March 2020

Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch, Senior Vice President of Government Strategy and Policy, Inmarsat Government

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Space is recognized as vital to national security, and the U.S. government with its NATO Allies is increasingly focused on the acceleration of a defendable space and the need for diversity, redundancy and resiliency of assets. The commercial satellite industry has built decades of expertise and trust and today plays a primary, driving role in how critical communications capabilities are provided.

Looking ahead to the future, commercial satellite communications (COMSATCOM) will continue to play an essential role in establishing a resilient architecture that our U.S. government servicemen and women can rely upon for multi-domain operations, to include: enhanced critical command and control communications, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), Blue Force Tracking, and Morale, Welfare and Recreation services.

Shifts in acquisition practices – moving from an ineffective status quo to a more robust, integrated architecture – will indeed make budgets “look different.” However, while the government is beginning to recognize the importance of commercial technologies, it has not committed meaningful resources to enhance the integration of COMSATCOM capabilities into future communications architectures. The government’s longstanding cultural challenges that tend to avoid risk-taking in favor of established piecemeal procurement models do not provide the demanded speed, reliability and resilience.

Conventional fixed-satellite service networks separate the space segment. They consist of satellites with many transponders primarily focused on broadcast, from the ground network, and include gateway stations with customer-unique modems and networking equipment. While this allows each customer to tailor their own network design, it can result in high equipment and maintenance costs due to the large number of ‘silo’ networks. Customers with high availability requirements must bear the further cost of duplicated equipment and terrestrial networks for redundancy. Finally, the dedicated network model also results in low space segment efficiency since the bandwidth for each network is leased and unused capacity cannot be shared.

Servicemen and women should have open access to nothing less than a “fully stocked toolshed” – with some legacy, purpose-built platforms for their specific needs, and more modern, commercially-developed options to readily obtain mission-critical mobile and highly-available narrowband and wideband. Without such a toolshed a fully integrated architecture with a heterogeneous network, modern capabilities and unquestioned resiliency will remain out-of-reach.

With the introduction of cost-effective wideband communication satellites, the technical and business models of the fixed satellite services are rapidly being transformed to adopt new-era models, such as SATCOM as a Service. This evolution is taking place in order to meet increasing demand for high-bandwidth connectivity while on the move. The unique challenges of global service delivery are met through an end-to-end network of resilient spacecraft technology, redundant ground infrastructure, innovative terminal technologies and new cloud computing paradigms. As a result, customers move flexibly around the world and simply plug in to get the global coverage alongside cost-effective, scalable capacity precisely where it is needed.

This is the model that Inmarsat’s mobile-centric strategy embraces, unique in the market. It is purpose-built for government users who require worldwide mobility delivered through a single subscription.

Inmarsat pioneered this model in the 1980s with the introduction of the first global mobile-satellite service network designed to meet the safety needs of the world’s maritime fleets. Inmarsat is a trusted commercial owner/operator that understands government users’ requirements and continues to invest heavily in enhancing SATCOM mobility, flexibility, redundancy, throughput, resilience and protection. Today, we develop and deploy innovative capabilities that include digital beamforming and shaping, NSA-approved cybersecurity and information assurance enhancements, high-throughput capacity, steerable antennas and secure managed service offerings that complement military satellite resources worldwide.

The cloud computing trend is prevalent in the U.S. and Allied governments, with mobile users demanding high operational tempo and mission readiness as a top priority. In light of budgetary pressures and the push to lower the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of information technology throughout government, this managed services model can immediately fulfill federal satellite requirements – SATCOM as a Service is the path forward. A readily available alternative to address government users’ most essential challenges, it allows for rapid delivery of proven technology and on-going innovation that covers satellites, ground infrastructure and terminals to provide a fast, cost-effective solution. Inmarsat’s forward-looking innovation arrives at no capital expense for customers. Once implemented and tested users simply “connect” and enjoy the benefits of these new technology-enabled improvements.

There is no reason for the government to not benefit from the ongoing technology innovation industry has to offer. SATCOM as a Service is readily available for implementation now. Like their cell phones or internet services, government users should expect high-bandwidth connectivity as a given, not an aspiration. With worldwide connectivity that is completely secure, reliable, resilient and always on – users can focus fully on their mission success.


About the author

Rebecca M. Cowen-HirschRebecca M. Cowen-Hirsch is Senior Vice President for Government Strategy and Policy for Inmarsat Government, based in Washington. Rebecca brings 25 years of defence, 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. Rebecca 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. Rebecca 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.