There is no question satellites are indispensable in the modern world for government and commercial users alike. In addition to being an integral part of the global economy, they are essential to national security. That is why improving the partnership between the U.S. government and industry is so important.
The commercial satellite industry permeates our daily lives and contributes more than $90 billion to the global economy. It offers a wide variety of services and applications that include: cable companies, television networks, financial institutions, major retailers, utilities, first responders, schools, hospitals, businesses, Internet service providers, consumers, and federal, state and local government agencies.
The homeland security and first responder communities use commercial satellites for a range of critical activities. Here are a few examples:
– White House Communications Agency (WHCA) uses commercial satellite communications systems extensively to support the president and vice president.
– Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and their Federal Air Marshals use satellite communications while in flight to communicate with staff on the ground.
– United States Coast Guard (USCG) uses commercial satellite communications for ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore communications and for container security and tracking.
– Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) maintains satellite phones in every field office.
And there are many more. Satellite communications also have played a critical role in responding to each of the natural and man-made disasters in recent years including 9/11, the Asian tsunami, the earthquake in Pakistan and the 2005 hurricane season.
Military forces are perhaps the most dependent upon space-based communications systems. The Defense Department currently uses a mix of military satellite communications systems and commercial satellite communications to meet its global deployed communications requirements.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles such as the Predator and Global Hawk are heavy users of commercial satellite bandwidth. The U.S. Army’s Blue Force Tracking program uses satellite links to provide battlefield situational awareness directly to soldiers and commanders, greatly reducing the potential for friendly-fire incidents.
The Armed Forces Radio and Television Service provides news and morale programming to our troops around the globe via satellite. Telemedicine via satellite puts the resources of world-class trauma specialists and surgeons at the disposal of medical teams on the battlefield.
In 2005 alone, the Defense Department spent over $650 million on commercial satellite communications equipment and capacity. It is projected to spend more than $1 billion dollars per year by 2010 as noted in a recent Northern Sky Research forecast.
Given this reliance on commercial satellite communications, during the last five years the satellite industry has spent thousands of hours and millions of dollars working with the federal government to ensure the security and reliability of the commercial satellite infrastructure.
In 2003, the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee established the Satellite Task Force to review infrastructure protection measures for commercial satellite networks used for national security and emergency preparedness communications.
Through its satellite infrastructure vulnerability analysis, the Satellite Task Force found that just as with all other telecommunications services, commercial satellite systems are susceptible to intentional and unintentional threats to varying degrees.
Intentional threats include jamming to the uplink and downlink communications signals. An example of uplink jamming occurred in the summer of 2003 when a signal emanating from Cuba jammed a U.S. satellite transmission to Iran on a commercial communications satellite.
Satellites also are vulnerable to both natural and man-made phenomena in space. For example, satellites are susceptible to solar flares and solar mass ejections, as well as physical collision with space debris.
After its in-depth review, the Satellite Task Force Report and the Defense Department concluded that the satellite industry is taking the steps necessary to mitigate these potential vulnerabilities.
For the last three years, the satellite industry also has been meeting with Pentagon leadership to discuss mission assurance – recently the Defense Department created the Mission Assurance Working Group and invited industry participation.
Ongoing activities that the industry and the Pentagon currently are working on within the Mission Assurance Working Group include:
– Information sharing and analysis regarding potential threats;
– Jamming and purposeful interference to commercial satellite systems;
– Development of a common operating procedure with respect to in-orbit “close approaches” between military and commercial satellites; and,
– Integration of the commercial satellite industry into Defense Department training exercises and war games.
Industry is willing to comply with these new requirements and in return expects the Pentagon to adopt commercial best practices such as long-term leasing and incorporating commercial satellites into their long-term planning and Transformational Communications Architecture .
The commercial satellite industry is fully focused on eliminating potential vulnerabilities to the extent technically and economically feasible. We therefore recommend that the U.S. government develop a national commercial satellite communication policy that:
1. Relies to the maximum practical extent on commercial satellite communications systems to meet the unclassified communications needs of the U.S. government;
2. Maintains robust satellite technology development programs such as the Transformation Satellite Program ;
3. Improve current U.S. export control laws for commercial satellites and their components;
4. Preserves and protects satellite spectrum from harmful interference; and
5. Supports the development and deployment of innovative satellite technologies and services.
Improving the partnership between the U.S. government and industry will help lower costs, guarantee better service and increase security. Such a partnership is in the long-term interests of our military, our first responders and our citizens.
David Cavossa is executive director of the Satellite Industry Association (SIA). The commentary above was excerpted from testimony SIA presented June 21 to the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee.