In the face of growing threats, Army scrambles to secure satellite links

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Army: More protection is needed as rising military powers acquire sophisticated anti-satellite technologies.

WASHINGTON — A recent examination of the Army’s combat networks turned out to be a huge wakeup call: The technology is not up to the job of ensuring systems are protected from enemy electronic attacks.

Following years of experiments and failed procurements, the Army is back to the drawing board in its efforts to acquire modern tactical networks that are reliable and resilient for combat use.

A vulnerable satellite infrastructure has sent Army officials scrambling in search of solutions. In areas like satellite anti-jamming and secure communications, the Army is seeking new products from the private sector and trying to patch up existing systems.

“It’s not that we don’t have any anti-jam capability, we do,” said Maj. Gen. John B. Morrison, commander of the U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence.

But increased protection is needed as rising military powers acquire more sophisticated anti-satellite technologies, Morrison told Space News Oct. 9 at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.

An immediate priority is to add anti-jam software across all Army tactical networks, said Morrison. Combat brigades today are equipped with secure satellite communications terminals that thwart radio frequency signal interference and can survive electromagnetic pulse attacks. But that is not enough, he said. “We’re in the process of upgrading these terminals so they fit into the network a little bit better,” said Morrison. The secure terminals are provided to brigades but the Army wants protection “across the entire network, and wants redundancy.” That applies to both satellite communications and GPS signals.

The Air Force introduced an advanced new GPS signal — known as military-code or M-Code — to improve anti-jamming and protection from spoofing, as well as to increase secure access to military GPS signals. The service recently awarded Lockheed Martin a $45.5 million contract to provide M-code early-use capability to the Global Positioning System.

The Army has not yet figured out how to bring this technology into its networks. “We are partnering with our Air Force teammates in assessing M-code and where it will go inside our formations,” said Morrison. “It’s not there yet.”

For more secure satellite communications, the Army intends to buy backpack-sized radios that can operate on the Navy’s Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) waveform, which provides military-secure voice and data services. MUOS is a Navy waveform but the Army is the only service that has certified terminals to use it.

Army spokesman Paul Mehney said MUOS terminals will be tested next year. Two vendors are competing for the order, Harris and Rockwell Collins. “If tests are positive, the current program plan calls for the manpack to ‎enter into production in 2019,” he said.

Morrison said the Army might consider accelerating the program. “We got great feedback from soldiers on MUOS and how it supports operations, especially in contested environments,” he said. “It gives us another means to get back into the network.”

The plan now is to field the terminals in two years, “but we are looking at options to accelerate, given the urgency,” Morrison said. “MUOS is something that we are taking a very hard look at.”

Long-term improvements in satellite security will require significant help from the Air Force, which manages 90 percent of the military’s space programs.

Morrison said the Army has to better communicate its needs to the Air Force and to the Defense Department. “In all candor I’m not sure we have articulated our operational requirements to the Air Force as best as we could have,” he said. As the Army better understands the threats it faces, he said, “I think we’re going to have a much clearer narrative articulating our needs to our sister services.”