June 9, 2017

A SQEP in the Right Direction…

Dave DavisBy Dave Davis, Sr. Systems Engineer, VT iDirect

Last week saw IET MilSatcom 2017 come to London. It was a fantastic event with big hitters from industry, Ministry of Defence (MoD) and academia joining together to share a vision of the future of MilSatcom in the near and medium term.

It was also the first time the event incorporated a second day with a series of workshops on day 1. The workshops provided an opportunity to discuss threats, countermeasures, management and spectrum issues. The workshops produced some interesting takeaways:

  • There is the potential for over-reliance on MilSatcom
  • There is a lack in training to be able to operate in a denied or degraded environment
  • There is a lack of suitably qualified and experienced personnel (SQEP) in the military
  • Effective management is key

Reliance is a big factor in MilSatcom. Yes, there is a built-in resilience and technology is far more reliable than it once was, but could a modern battlefield commander operate without MilSatcom providing the large data rates required? Training in a degraded environment is key to understanding how the systems operate under stress and what contingencies are there. There is still a requirement for non-Satcom, i.e., HF capability and an ability to fall back where required. Luckily there is a plethora of Satcom available, so if MilSatcom is denied or degraded, having another satellite system available is likely, but data rates will probably be reduced.

Having a remote device that can connect to a wide variety of satellite networks is essential and this is a strength of iDirect; the ability to use the same remote across various networks and a variety of frequency bands, C, X, Ku and Ka. As discussed before, a blended portfolio is key, but so are the skills to operate without Satcom, just in case.

There is also a reliance on industry and a corresponding de-skilling of military personnel. Industry in turn has relied on a supply of ex-military Satcom experts to join the ranks of the industry support. However, the balance has become skewed and now the people in the military are lacking the skillset to be true SQEP assets with regards to Satcom. As always, there are exceptions, but the balance is definitely not at the optimum level. This in turn affects industry, as those leaving the military have relied so much on industry that they don’t have the necessary skills to be able to provide that support in turn, i.e., the supply of Satcom experts is reduced. This cycle needs to be resumed and to do that training and support for the military must be improved so that the military have their SQEP quota and are in a place to supply the industry experts of the future.

Management is essential and by using Open APIs external management systems can provide the “manager of managers” required to look after a broad portfolio of equipment, not just the Satcom element.

Day 2 of the conference was outstanding with two great panel debates with the big hitters such as Airbus, XTAR and Lockheed Martin. Also, the individual presentations from the likes of Thales Alenia Space and Inmarsat were very well received. There was a lot of enlightening detail, which inspired much debate during the breaks and at the drinks reception, sponsored by GovSat. A highlight for me was the world of SSVC and how the radio, TV and internet services are provided to the deployed troops around the world.

All in all, it was a brilliant event and I’ll certainly be signing up for the 2018 event at the earliest opportunity.