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Study: U.S. Military Communications Technology and Cyber Defense Challenges Remain

 

The Second Annual State of Military Communications Study Finds Military Communications Still Not Seen as a Priority; Creating Potentially Dire Implications Relative to Adversaries.

February 2021: A new study finds challenges still exist in fulfilling a successful military communications technology strategy for the multi-domain battlefield despite ongoing efforts from the Department of Defense (DoD). Concerns regarding the DoD’s acquisition process and cybersecurity capabilities were revealed in the study conducted by Government Business Council (GBC), the research division of Government Executive Media Group, in partnership with Viasat Inc., (NASDAQ: VSAT) a global communications company.

 

According to the second annual “State of Military Communications” study, respondents reported the top three causes of defense communications technology deficiencies in their agencies include: limited funding, incompatibilities with legacy architectures, and cultural complacency. Cultural complacency was also reported as the number one reason why defense agencies continue to contract with companies from the Traditional Defense Industrial Base (TDIB) over companies from the New Defense Industrial Base (NDIB).

 

 

The brief was presented by Josh Okada Senior Research Analyst for Government Executive Media Group’s (GEMG) research arm and Ken Peterman, President of Government Systems at Viasat, Inc.

 

Josh Okada opened the brief outlining the goals of the study and some of the differences in the 2020 update.  The study, which took place between September and October 2020, consisted of 195 respondents that were from the US Air Force, US Navy, and the US Army, and was comprised of all ranks and job profiles from within the active duty and reserve military, as well as civilian support staff. 48% of the respondents had purchasing authority.

The 2020 study found that  the DoD continues to experience difficulty keeping up with today’s most advanced communications technology and that most military personnel have experienced a complete communications blackout during operations. Additionally, a majority of respondents stated that US communications technology is on par or behind their adversaries’ capabilities, rather than ahead of them.

Other key findings from the study include:

  • Despite improvements, communications technology is still not seen as an agency priority
  • 97% of respondents reported a complete loss in connectivity at some point while working in the military
  • The majority (60%) of respondents think U.S communications technology is either behind or only on par with their adversaries, suggesting potentially dire implications relative to near-peer adversaries
  • 76% of respondents believe that a focus on improvements to defense communications is much lower, or just on par, with other top priorities in their agency

 

“The fact that communication blackouts are still common is a compelling point. In civilian life we may be frustrated with connectivity problems but when you are in the battlespace it becomes life threatening, so we must not lose sight of the urgency and importance of this point,” stated Ken Peterman, president of Viasat Government Systems.

Mr. Peterman further stated that due to cultural complacency, “The DoD falls back on and extends legacy contracts and IDIQs, and funds aging Programs of Record even though we know the technology is stale, tired, and not going to survive in a conflict with adversaries.” He went on to state that cultural complacency must be addressed immediately for the DoD to take advantage of cutting-edge technologies provided by companies in the New Defense Industrial Base (NDIB) such as Amazon, Palantir, and Viasat.

Secure connectivity was seen as the number one improvement needed in defense communications technology

 

  • When asked about their agency’s preparedness for a cyberattack on defense communications infrastructure, confidence levels were low across the board. The highest percentage (39%) of respondents indicated they were ‘moderately confident’ in their agency’s preparedness, while 16% said they were ‘not at all confident’ and only 8% reported feeling ‘extremely confident.’

 

Acquisition remains a risk to the U.S. military’s lead in defense-related technologies 

 

  • 67% of respondents agree there is room for the military to improve its adoption of communications technology
  • Increased commercial sector engagement could help boost the pace of improvements to the military’s communications technology portfolio, according to the majority (63%) of respondents
  • Respondents (52%) also suggest that increased participation from non-traditional companies — including those from the NDIB — in DoD’s acquisition process could expose the military to the latest and greatest technology and business processes

 

“We need to focus on the kinds of capabilities our warfighters need,” Ken Peterman continued, discussing examples ranging from SINCGARS radios still in the field and in-use decades after initial fielding, to WIN-T, and WGS which were years-behind and billions of dollars over plan before they were operational.

Mr. Peterman compared these technologies to the civilian sector where the industry went from 2G to 5G in less than half that time, while simultaneously driving cost improvements.

Some improvements were noted; investments in cloud, analytics and communications are being made to support the next-gen warfighter.

 

  • Though challenges exist with developing and acquiring advanced communications technology, respondents did report their agencies are upgrading equipment to minimize challenges created by outdated legacy IT
  • Advanced satellite communications, analytics, and 5G technology were flagged by respondents as the top next-gen technologies their agency must leverage to advance defense communications capabilities
  • Respondents also believe cloud computing is worthy of investment, noting their organizations were prioritizing it to enable key emerging capabilities; 36% of respondents reported a concerted push for additional cloud computing technologies within the past 12 months

 

Despite these improvements and increases in dedicated spend to some of these areas, challenges certainly remain. The survey indicated that a majority of respondents were not confident in their agency’s preparedness against a cyberattack. In fact, cybersecurity was called out as the most needed technology improvement.

 

The strategic importance of secure communications to the military cannot be overstated

 

“As the defense landscape evolves, global military prowess will no longer be determined by artillery alone; command over information — and the digital channels that convey it — will determine the victor. This year’s State of Military Communications survey continued to highlight the need for the DoD to increase its communications modernization efforts to remain competitive against global adversaries to drive real-time decision making and information sharing.” said Daniel Thomas, director, Research & Strategic Insights, Government Business Council.

 

Further highlighting the necessity and vital importance of connectivity to the warfighter, Mr. Peterman stated, “The key is connectivity as it gives you access to the cloud and enables cloud empowerment and real-time situation awareness, but also predictive technology which can tip and cue a warfighter so they can see a threat emerging using cloud technology.”

In a follow-up interview with Mr. Peterman on January 4th, he had this to say about some of the points revealed in the survey:

“In the last 25 years, we have seen the technology leadership in mobile networking, SATCOM, and cybersecurity crossover from the US Government to the private sector.

While the DoD drove technological innovations forward in the past, with projects such as the Internet, the Global Positioning Satellite System, spaceflight, and the jet engine, the present reality is that private sector innovation in these domains continues to accelerate such that acquisition policy, practice and culture is failing to keep pace.

Modern private sector communications networks provide substantially greater performance, resilience, security, scalability, and economy than their government counterparts – this holds true within the warfighter context and in peer adversary contested environments.

This performance gap will continue to widen as the private sector continues to apply far more resources into research and development, while also leveraging ‘blitz scaling’ and agile development processes to capture global market share. This methodology represents a stark contrast to the long development cycles needed to create exquisite DoD-like solutions.

Due to longer acquisition and development cycles, future government purpose-built systems will, at best, be three to five generations behind the technology and performance curve of comparable private sector solutions.

While private sector technologies present enormous opportunity for the DoD and other government users, significant barriers in areas such as acquisition, contracting, export and budget processes, as well as DoD culture must be overcome for the government to leverage the results of this technology crossover.”

When reviewing the survey results from 2020, Mr. Peterman further noted that, “In its second year, the State of Military Communications survey once again spotlighted the need for enhanced communications to help bridge the multi-domain battlefield and support our warfighters. Status-quo acquisition models anchored in cultural complacency must evolve, the pace of technology deployment must align with the speed of relevancy and a focus on security, cloud computing, communications and analytics are all needed to ensure our U.S. competitive military advantage does not erode.”

 

In closing, he stated, “Viasat is at the vanguard of the New Defense Industrial Base, focused on bringing innovative business models and game-changing technologies to the defense sector with the goal of creating unprecedented warfighter capabilities and mission outcomes.”

 

A complete copy of the Second Annual State of Military Communications Study can be found here: https://www.viasat.com/sites/default/files/media/documents/state-of-mil_comms_final_report.pdf

 

About the research and methodology

 

Government Business Council, the research division of Government Executive Media Group, in partnership with Viasat, conducted the State of Military Communications survey, an in-depth study of senior military decision-makers. The study, now in its second year, was fielded from September-October 2020, to a random sample of U.S. active military and DoD civilians from across the nation. Responses of 195 defense employees were captured after quality control and screening, with about 40% of respondents identifying as GS/GM-13 level or above (including Senior Executive Service). Respondents represented all branches of the military, with the greatest input from the Air Force, Navy, and Army in the 2020 survey.

 

About Government Business Council

 

As Government Executive Media Group’s research division, Government Business Council (GBC) is dedicated to advancing the business of government through analysis, insight, and analytical independence. An extension of Government Executive’s 50 years of exemplary editorial standards, GBC produces over 100 research initiatives each year, studying influential decision-makers across all sectors in government to provide invaluable insights, thought leadership content and marketing intelligence for government contractors.

 

About Viasat

 

Viasat is a global communications company that believes everyone and everything in the world can be connected. For nearly 35 years, Viasat has helped shape how consumers, businesses, governments, and militaries around the world communicate. Today, the Company is developing the ultimate global communications network to power high-quality, secure, affordable, fast connections to impact people’s lives anywhere they are—on the ground, in the air, or at sea. To learn more about Viasat, visit: www.viasat.com, or follow the Company on social media  at: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter or YouTube.

 

Ken Peterman, President Government Systems, Viasat Inc.

Ken Peterman is President Government Systems at Viasat.  A world leader in satellite communications, networking, cybersecurity, and related technologies, Viasat (sales ~$2B/yr.) employs over 6,000 professional and support personnel worldwide. Viasat produces satellite payloads and ground infrastructure, satellite terminals, networked data links, and cybersecurity solutions that provide high speed, assured, secure global communications serving both the commercial and government sectors.  Viasat’s government business is a market leader in tactical networking and Link-16 datalinks; information assurance and cybersecurity; assured, high capacity satellite communications; and air/ground situational awareness.

Under Ken’s leadership Viasat’s Government Systems group has built a team culture of passionate focus on the warfighting mission; applying technical innovation to empower the warfighter in new and exciting ways that many never dreamed possible. This customer-first focus has driven Viasat’s transformation from a small supplier to a communications services leader in the new Defense Industrial Base with an enduring commitment to connecting the world’s toughest missions and ensuring that mission operators have the information they need, where and when they need it.

A distinguished leader in Aerospace & Defense, Ken has helped shape the strategic landscape in tactical and satellite communications, cybersecurity, and C4 defense technology sectors through successful tenures at the President/CEO and VP/GM level of several top defense companies, including ITT Exelis, Rockwell Collins, and Raytheon. Ken has accumulated deep credentials via successful leadership experiences in a diverse array of organizational cultures and geo-political environments across over 40 years in the defense segment and is a respected thought leader among US and international senior leaders.

Along with his wife, Jennifer, Ken’s charitable and philanthropic efforts primarily focus on environmental conservation and aiding socially and economically disadvantaged US communities, as well improving education and economic stability for women and children in developing countries. Ken serves on a variety of boards and advisory groups where he helps advance the strategic trajectories of the military communications and technology sectors.

Josh Okada

Josh Okada is a Senior Research Analyst for Government Executive Media Group’s (GEMG) research arm, Government Business Council (GBC). Prior to GBC, Josh worked in research at institutions such as the Council on Foreign Relations. As a published researcher, Josh has garnered experience analyzing primary and secondary data to identify trends in government. Now at GBC, he hopes to provide that expertise to government officials. Josh Okada is a Senior Research Analyst for Government Executive Media Group’s (GEMG) research arm.

 

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