For government aircraft, both military and civilian, the challenges sparked by digital transformation take on an entirely new aspect. Maintaining secure, high-speed, uninterrupted connectivity on land is difficult enough, but maintaining that access globally while traveling hundreds of miles per hour means the issues are multiplied exponentially. Yet, there is good news: commercial satellite networks have now evolved to support ever-growing, fast-changing needs.
Security, Speed, Availability, and Interoperability
With multiple solutions coming to market, what should military and civilian agencies look for when selecting a commercial satellite network? According to Ed Slater, Vice President of Government Business Operations at COMSAT the biggest communications challenge for government aviation comes down to this: “Military customers want the flexibility to freely move from network to network. They no longer have the budget, personnel, or aircraft downtime to be installing new equipment with each network move. They need industry partners to come together to design and build open architecture networks that provide this capability.”
Slater said that the key to fulfilling the government’s needs is open architecture. “Open architecture networks bring partners together to provide better equipment, service and value-added features that will cover most requirements at a better value to military customers. Proprietary networks are usually focused on a few core customer bases and lack the flexibility to support most requirements, lack innovation and prevent industry partnerships,” he explained.
For Slater, there are four elements that should be evaluated critically when exploring satellite network solutions:
- Guaranteed availability—ensuring global access at any altitude and speed requires overlapping signals from the orbital network, providing a seamless handoff from one satellite to the next. Also critical is how well the satellites integrate with ground networks.
- High-performance/high data rate connectivity—some satellites are designed for broader coverage, while others are meant to deliver greater throughput. A blended solution may provide the best overall capacity.
- Security and resistance to jamming—obviously, for the government, security is paramount, and for the military, it is an absolute necessity. Jamming remains a threat to communications and is becoming more sophisticated.
Redundancy in the satellite network can mitigate the impact of jamming attempts by quickly switching to a different beam. Authorization protocols are also essential, to ensure proper access to the transmission.
- Interoperability and flexibility/Manageable costs—these points go hand-in-hand; as government rapidly moves away from stove-piped, legacy systems for applications, networking and storage, the SATCOM community is not as far along. This locked-in technology can mean less agility… and higher costs.
Agile Networks; Predictable Costs.
Finding the solution that meets these critical needs means that government aircraft, which frequently have to support both communications and ISR requirements, (including sensors, live video feeds, and signals data), can deliver on their mission.
Of course, as well as the four critical considerations, there’s also the matter of cost. Slater said that some providers have not always been adaptable in terms of cost, despite the changing requirements.
“Many services require a customer to determine a single rate plan that covers both operations which drives unneeded cost to users. FlexAir, for example, provides plans that reduce costs while providing ISR plans that increase bandwidth in areas of greater need,” he said.
For the future, the one sure thing is that situations will evolve rapidly. Aircraft communications networks need to scale, adapt, and deliver high performance, high availability, and extensive security across every AOR. The right satellite provider is the one that can deliver on these requirements with flexible capacity and predictable costs.
Download our guide to Breaking the Barriers of In-flight Connectivity for Government Aircraft here.