Transitioning to the Skynet 6 satellite system will significantly enhance the UK’s defense capabilities. But aside from bringing game-changing new technological advancements to today’s warfighters, Skynet 6 must also be designed from the outset to defend against emerging cyber-threats and new enemy interference capabilities.
“Almost all modern military engagements rely on space-based assets,” notes a July 2019 Chatham House study. NATO nations, in particular, rely on satellites for everything from military communications and gathering intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance data to navigation and missile warning systems.
The Chatham study further illustrates the importance of acting swiftly to address security vulnerabilities posed to UK and allied military satellite networks. The report states that current cyber-vulnerabilities “undermine the confidence in the performance of strategic systems.” And, as a result, “rising uncertainty in information and analysis continues to impact the credibility of deterrence and strategic stability.”
Some in the defence industry have said current SATCOM architectures may be the “Achilles heel” of military operations, but until recently, no adversary posed a major threat to the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) or allied nations’ satellite networks. Today’s near-peer adversaries are investing heavily in private sector technologies — notably cyberwarfare capabilities — which have the potential to disrupt UK military satellite communications (SATCOM). It will be critical for the MOD to work closely with the government and private sector leaders to address security and resilience vulnerabilities as it moves closer to transitioning to the Skynet 6 programme.
The Chatham study also states that “critical dependency on space has resulted in new cyber- risks that disproportionately affect mission assurance.” And that “investing in mitigation measures and in the resilience of space systems for the military is key to achieving protection in all domains.”
The MOD has the opportunity today to address current security and resilience concerns while simultaneously improving operational capabilities that will make the battle-network of the future a reality across today’s battlespace. By leveraging the best of both private sector and purpose-built military SATCOM technology, the MOD deploy the most sophisticated most assured, most capable and most resilient network ever developed: a hybrid network.
The Hybrid Adaptive Network
This is the essence of Viasat’s Hybrid Adaptive Network (HAN) concept. Viasat’s HAN combines multiple layers of government and private sector networks into an integrated whole. Combining private sector and military SATCOM capabilities offers powerful synergy and provides the greatest performance and mission assurance for increased lethality and survivability in both benign and contested domains. Also, since the HAN is an open-source system, there is no single vendor and hence no vendor lock. Further, the HAN embraces technology innovation by readily accepting new networks, steadily advancing the capabilities and continually extending the resiliency of the HAN over time. The system can route traffic based on the needs of a given mission, using solutions such as software-defined terminals and an integrated network management system that can easily switch users between different networks and beams based on the needs of a mission.
More importantly, HAN architectures offer a number of advanced security features that can help the MOD rapidly outpace adversarial threats capable of disrupting UK military SATCOM networks.
The Chatham House study urges NATO members to secure their space assets from cyberattack starting with the design stage, and to research new cybersecurity methods. A HAN architecture takes a holistic approach to securing the network. For example, Viasat builds its cybersecurity into its network architecture from the ground up. This includes a 24/7 Cyber Security Operations Center that actively monitors and responds to some of the world’s most advanced cyber-threats.
By designing features into a central HAN architecture for the Skynet 6 programme, the MOD will be able to deploy advanced security capabilities needed to maintain a tactical advantage. Some of the key security features of a HAN include:
- Network management: the ability to have access to a real-time dashboard of user status, including beam usage statistics and individual user performance. In addition, management and control applications should be in place to provide the MOD with an information advantage. This allows the UK to monitor, assess, plan and execute assured communications for joint missions that scale to hundreds of simultaneous operations.
- Real-time active cyberdefence: a system that actively monitors, correlates, and attributes threats in real-time and provides in-depth analysis, management and response to defeat rapidly evolving threats; creates automated, trust-based security policies that quarantine threats and prevent lateral movement within the network; and synchronises activities with the network and user mission operation centres to assure network security and mission execution.
- Network layering: network resilience with management and control with alternate paths to quickly move users across multiple satellite beams, overlapping service layers, and connectivity alternatives in near real-time to counter enemy jamming and interference attempts. By layering private sector and UK military satellite networks, the MOD can greatly improve resiliency, deterrence, and redundancy as it offers a multi-band, multi-network option. This allows the user to maneuver across networks and help ensure operations continue through threats and jamming attempts.
- Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI): machine learning and AI capabilities offered by private sector leaders like Viasat can rapidly recognise threat vectors and report potential threats on the HAN network. By employing machine learning and AI capabilities, MOD will have the capability to defend against billions of cyber-threats within a 24 hour period. The organic intelligence growth of machine learning and AI capabilities will also be critical to maintaining a tactical advantage as the volume of connected battle-network devices continues to increase.
- Early network threat detection: having the ability to look across both commercial and government SATCOM architectures can provide network managers with more effective search aperture, more diverse data base and far more productive behavior analysis capability to more rapidly identify, assess and defend against emerging network threats – proactively accelerating cyber defence maneuvers and strengthening cybersecurity capabilities well beyond that of a government-only network.
It’s clear a HAN approach to Skynet 6 would offer the UK a flexible and open Service Delivery Platform that meets the need for a robust, scalable and secure communications network architecture. Such an approach will allow the MOD to maintain the tactical edge needed to deter fast-moving threats and bring the battle-network of the future to life across the battlespace.
Viasat looks forward to bringing our deep experience, proven capabilities and innovative technologies to bear by working closely with the MOD as the UK Government moves to enhance SATCOM and security capabilities as it transitions to Skynet 6.