DISA Official Bullish on Commercial Bandwidth

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A senior official at the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) said he is optimistic that the U.S. military one day soon will be able to integrate commercial and military satellite bandwidth so seamlessly into its network that very few will know the difference.

Bruce Bennett, DISA’s program executive officer for satellite communications, teleport and services, said the unpredictability of future military engagements means DISA needs to have satellite bandwidth at the ready just about everywhere.

Financing the commercial satellite pieces of the network remains a nagging issue. Bennett said the U.S. Overseas Contingency Operations fund, intended as a temporary facility to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and now used to finance the purchase of commercial satellite bandwidth, is almost certain to be a victim of budget arbitrage.

Getting to multiyear funding should be possible, but has proven difficult to achieve.

“The idea is that we would lease bandwidth and then add it as if it were another WGS [Wideband Global Satcom] or AEHF,” Bennett said, referring to two of the U.S. Defense Department’s current satellite telecommunications programs. “We would assign that out to our users as we would assign anything else.”

Bennett touched on the continued difficulties allied forces have communicating with each other in Afghanistan and other theaters because of different technical standards of their equipment, and different security requirements that sometimes make information sharing difficult among coalition partners.

He said that as the Defense Department moves toward the more open Internet Protocol and adopts commercial technical standards such as DVB-RCS, allied communication will improve.

“We’re trying to get out of the business of making proprietary things,” Bennett said. “We should be able to set up a coalition channel within the network.”

Bennett said he is eager for industry to develop laser optical terminals whose size and cost enable installation on spacecraft not for space-to-ground links, but for intersatellite communications.

“For [intersatellite links], I can’t see it happening fast enough,” Bennett said. “Less so for the downlink, which is easily defeated, and highly regulated. That will take a long time.”