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February 18, 2021 | International, Naval

PBO report on Canadian Surface Combatant to be released Feb. 24

PBO report on Canadian Surface Combatant to be released Feb. 24

The PBO study comes at the request of the Commons government operations committee, which wanted the latest cost figures on the CSC project.

On the same subject

  • The calculus of cheaper military comms satellites

    July 31, 2018 | International, Aerospace, C4ISR

    The calculus of cheaper military comms satellites

    By: Kelsey Atherton  Space is not so much hard as it is expensive. Satellites today are expensive machines, expensively built and expensive to launch, with the understanding that, once on orbit, they can work for years. That calculus assumes several eggs in every pricey basket, and as space moves from a home for military satellites to a domain where nations prepare for actual combat, building resilience in orbit means rethinking how satellites are done. It means rethinking costs in the billions and imagining them instead in the millions. And to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Paul “Rusty” Thomas it means creating a whole new ecosystem for payloads and launches. Thomas is the program manager for Blackjack, a DARPA initiative that wants to pilot a constellation of cheaper satellites for military communication, with the costs low, uplinks up and the resilience of the whole constellation baked-in. C4ISRNET’s Kelsey Atherton spoke with Thomas about the program. C4ISRNET: There’s a lot of interest in both low Earth orbit [LEO] and constellations of satellites. What is DARPA’s specific goal with Blackjack? PAUL “RUSTY” THOMAS: Blackjack, as an architecture demonstration, will build a portion of a constellation, looking at about 20 percent of a fully proliferated LEO constellation. That’s a range of 20 satellites, 20 percent of the 90 to 100 satellite constellation, which would give a ground user three to four hours per day or more of theater-level operations so that we could actually demonstrate what we’re going to do with a full, fully proliferated 24/7 constellation that covers the entire Earth and gives global constant coverage and global constant custody. C4ISRNET: What was the logic behind accepting separate proposals for busses and payloads? THOMAS: Most exquisite spacecraft we built have been married to the bus and payload from Day 1. That’s a wonderful model for exquisite spacecraft. But we’re trying to build a proliferated LEO payload ecosystem — like the commercial commoditized bus ecosystem — that can match the numerous types of payloads. To do that you don’t want to just show that one payload matches great and then move forward. That just gives you a great payload. To try and build that ecosystem out, you want to go to at least Program Design Review with the payload developers working to a generalized initial design covering numerous types of commoditized busses. Once you get deeper into the design phase, match that payload to a bus, which allows a large range of payloads to be developed. C4ISRNET: There’s a lot of commercial interest in this space; does that pose any risk to deploying a new constellation? THOMAS: The goal of Blackjack is to prove you can leverage commercial approaches with potentially lower costs, lower cycle times, lower times for design and build. It also comes with the issue that we’re not directing the approach to building the bus, we’re not directing how the constellation is put together for these folks; therefore, the rest is getting the government itself to do that match and to put our systems into play in a way that marches in lockstep with them without directing their commercial elements will play. That brings risk. We have to learn how to do business a little different than it’s been done in the past, and to move a little quicker than the government has in the past. C4ISRNET: So, there’s no risk of LEO being too crowded to accommodate more constellations? THOMAS: No. Well, I wouldn’t say no risk, there’s always risk, the mega constellations that you’re starting to see FCC filings for look like they’re going to put hundreds, and some of them into the 10,000-plus range, and that’s certainly going to be a challenge and it’s going to be a risk. Fortunately, we have air traffic control systems on the ground that cover large numbers of aircraft in the air at any given time. We haven’t actually taken that step into how to manage large numbers of spacecraft in space yet, but we believe that all the technology is there and it’s just a matter of implementing an area where the government is going to be tracking what the commercial folks are doing. There’s a risk — it’s not major, space is big — but you absolutely need to track the spacecraft and make sure they can deorbit. But in terms of putting thousands or even tens of thousands of satellites into low Earth orbit, all of that seems very feasible and is not in the high-risk bucket. C4ISRNET: What’s the rough timeline you’re expecting for demonstrations? THOMAS: For the 20-satellite constellation, we plan to have the first two spacecraft that we have integrated to the commercial busses and the payload together ready by the end of 2020, with launch by early 2021. We will follow that in 2021 with the rest of the 18, once we’ve confirmed the first two are fine. We will have the full demonstration capability running late in 2021 with an expectation of theater-level autonomous operations from low Earth orbit in 2022. C4ISRNET: One argument for satellite constellations and against exquisite satellites is resiliency. How does that work here? THOMAS: You get a lower cost, the individual node becomes a bit expendable, you don’t build your resiliency around the individual node, you don’t try to protect that spacecraft to the nth degree like in exquisite billion-dollar-plus craft. If the Blackjack model works, spacecraft will be in the $3 million to $4 million range, $2 million to $3 million to put it into orbit. We’re talking about a $6 million node, including the cost of getting it into space. Therefore, it’s less than the cost of a high-end munition. The constellation itself becomes your resilient element. You can put your high-level availability, reliability and mission assurance at the constellation level instead of at the node, because of the numbers you’re putting up. If one satellite has fallen, its replacement is coming over the horizon 10 to 15 minutes later. You have a different approach to resiliency, large numbers of spacecraft in play, which totally turns some of the counterspace elements on its ear. C4ISRNET: What counter-space elements might this be especially resilient against? THOMAS: You now have low-cost nodes, so a lot of the direct ascent type of methods out there no longer makes a lot of sense. Of course, you still have varied threats from non-kinetic and cyber. We still need to protect the constellation against all the other types of threats out there, so it probably helps the most on the kinetic side, but it certainly gives you lot of resilience in all the areas. C4ISRNET: What kind of communications presence will this enable?   THOMAS: Blackjack is aimed at leveraging the new mesh networks being set up by these commercial companies. A user currently in the DoD might need to look up at two or three different options in space to actually talk and do communications in this space segment. Once we link up and do encryption, the user on the ground will look up and see hundreds or more potential network nodes overhead at any given point on the planet, North Pole to South Pole; it’s going to drastically change how the DoD does communication. That is a bit independent of what Blackjack is going to do. If the commercial companies succeed and come out, that capability, call it raw gigabit-per-second class, not all of them it. But they all have many megabit data links from one point of the planet to another, at very low latency, 100-200 milliseconds, so you do really change the game for how any user, DoD included, does global communication. C4ISRNET: Is a desired end goal of Blackjack specifically a redundant spaceborne network that can function independently if access to internet on the ground is cut off? THOMAS: If you have a problem with your terrestrial network — whether it’s a ground network system or point-to-point comms, fiber optics or others being interfered with — the space mesh network provides the ability to move the data up, move it through the space mesh, and move it back to the ground, without any other system being involved in that data transition. The switch network that Iridium has up right now, it’s low bandwidth but a wonderful system in terms of moving data from one point to another on the planet through the Iridium gateways that DoD and its users have worldwide. Move that up to high broadband access, and not just two or three satellites overhead but dozens or hundreds, and it really does move us into a new realm. C4ISRNET: At what point in the program do bus and payload link? Is there a point where they’re demoed together? THOMAS: In the [broad agency announcement] out right now, you can see we’re looking for multiple payloads to go at least through phase one, potentially multiple buses to go through phase one. As we progress the programs through the preliminary design review into phase two and get critical design review, first two spacecraft built, we’ll be selecting the ones to continue deeper and deeper into the program to match up and do the demo. We’ll start with a wide range and narrow down to a smaller set to actually do the demonstration with a secondary objective of showing why a huge payload will work, why different types of payloads will be successful in this type of architecture, even though we’ve only got one or two of them. C4ISRNET: What does the future of Blackjack look like? THOMAS: We are looking at large numbers of types of payloads. We very much want to get into a rapid tech refresh cycle … putting up payloads every two or three years that are newer version of the ones that have gone previously, have an open architecture standard so we can update over the air with better algorithms.

  • Defence minister Rajnath Singh asks IAF to make plans to counter future threats

    April 19, 2021 | International, Aerospace

    Defence minister Rajnath Singh asks IAF to make plans to counter future threats

    IAF has projected its capability to carry out day-and-night, all-weather combat missions in the Ladakh sector, with front-line fighter jets, attack helicopters and multi-mission choppers deployed there. It has also deployed its new Rafale fighter jets in the sector.

  • The drive to advance missile defense is there, but there must be funding

    February 3, 2020 | International, Aerospace

    The drive to advance missile defense is there, but there must be funding

    By: Richard Matlock  Over the past five years, missile threats have evolved far more rapidly than conventional wisdom had predicted. Best known is North Korea’s accelerated development and testing of sophisticated, road-mobile ballistic missiles. But the U.S. National Defense Strategy requires renewed focus on greater powers. China has adopted an anti-access strategy consisting of new offensive missiles, operational tactics and fortifications in the South China Sea. Russia, too, has developed highly maneuverable hypersonic missiles specifically designed to defeat today’s defenses. Grappling with these sobering realities demands change. The 2019 Missile Defense Review called for a comprehensive approach to countering regional missiles of all kinds and from whatever source, as well as the increasingly complex intercontinental ballistic missiles from rogue states. But programs and budgets have not yet aligned with the policy. The upcoming defense budget submission presents an important opportunity to address these new and complex challenges. The Missile Defense Agency’s current top three goals are sustaining the existing force, increasing capacity and capability, and addressing more advanced threats. The first two are necessary but insufficient. The third goal must be elevated to adapt U.S. missile defense efforts to the geopolitical and technological realities of our time. For the last decade, less than 2 percent of MDA’s annual funding has been dedicated to developing advanced technology, during which time our adversaries have begun outpacing us. As President Donald Trump said last January, we “cannot simply build more of the same, or make incremental improvements.” Adapting our missile defense architecture will require rebalance, discipline and difficult choices. Realigning resources to develop advanced technologies and operational concepts means investing less in single-purpose systems incapable against the broader threat. It also requires we accept and manage new kinds of risk. Indeed, meeting the advanced threat may, in the short term, require accepting some strategic risk with North Korea. The beginning of this rebalance requires more distributed, elevated and survivable sensors capable of tracking advanced threats. The most important component here is a proliferated, globally persistent space layer in low-Earth orbit consisting of both passive and active sensors. MDA may be the missile defense-centric organization best suited to developing and integrating this capability into the architecture, but there is considerable opportunity for partnering with others to move out smartly, as recently urged by Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten. Partnerships with the Space Development Agency and the Air Force can be supplemented by collaborative efforts with commercial space companies. We need not do this all at once. Space assets could be fielded in phases, with numbers, capability (sensors, interceptors, lasers), missions, and orbits evolving over time. MDA demonstrated a similar paradigm with the Delta experiments, Miniature Sensor Technology Integration series and the Near Field Infrared Experiment in the past. Meanwhile, other sensors could alleviate the cost of building new, billion-dollar radar on islands in the Pacific Ocean — efforts which continue to suffer delay. Adding infrared tracking sensors to high-altitude drones, for instance, has already been demonstrated experimentally in the Indo-Pacific theater with modified Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles. These need not be dedicated assets. Sensor pod kits could be stored in theater to be deployed aboard Reapers or other platforms during heightened tensions. We must revisit boost-phase defenses and directed energy. In 2010, the Airborne Laser program demonstrated that lasers could destroy missiles in the boost phase, but deploying toxic chemical lasers aboard large commercial aircraft was fiscally and operationally untenable. Fortunately, considerable operational promise exists with recently developed solid-state lasers (the cost of which is around $2 of electricity per shot). We must move these systems out of the laboratory and build and test operational prototypes. Near-term actions to better manage risk against the rogue-state ballistic missile threat must not overtake the pursuit of these larger goals. Although the Pentagon is currently considering a 10-year, $12 billion program for a next-generation interceptor, nearer-term, cheaper options are available. Replacing each existing kill vehicle on the Ground-Based Interceptors with several smaller kill vehicles would multiply each interceptor’s effectiveness dramatically. The U.S. has been developing this technology since 2006, including a “hover” flight test in 2009. Affordable solutions like this must be found. Missile defense cannot do it all. Denying, degrading and destroying enemy missile systems prior to launch must be part of the mix. But left-of-launch activities can be expensive and difficult, and reliance on a cyber magic wand carries risk, too. We need to broaden our approach to attack all parts of our adversary’s kill chain. The National Defense Strategy urges that we contend with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be — or as it previously was. To meet the threats of today and tomorrow, we must radically transform our U.S. missile defenses. It falls to the 2021 budget to do so.

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