AFCEA Talk 15 June 2021: Future Navy Communications

Future Navy Communications with Marv Langston

Marv presented an AFCEA virtual discussion on how new commercial satellite systems could improve future Navy ship to shore and ship to ship communications.

Webinar Transcript

Marv: [00:00:00] And I’m honored to be here today. I’m out here in Virginia enjoying a nice sunny day that’s not too different than your San Diego day back there. For all of you who are in this information technology rich world we live in today, you might remember that my good friend Andrew Mansfield always said, what if we could have the whole world at our fingertips? Oh, we do. And of course, that’s true. As long as you’re not floating out in the ocean serving as a sailor where you’re always challenged with disconnected, intermittent and low bandwidth communications. So I’d like to spend some time today talking about how the world is changing rapidly and how that might affect the future of these digital communications that most of us have been in this business are well aware of. Next slide. So what is the deal, I think most people in our community are pretty well familiar with it. We always struggle with how to our sailors get enough bandwidth to communicate back to home and to their families and more importantly, how to our. More fighters communicate so that they can cause the right. Target to be engaged with the right weapon at the right time in the face of adversaries that are trying to eliminate our ability to sense them and communicate to ourselves to control that activity. If you think back, though, into the history of this in the Tripoli war, the Barbary Wars of the early eighteen hundreds, President Jefferson found out six weeks after the war started, after Tripoli declared war on us and cut down the flagpole on our own, our embassy, which wasn’t an embassy at the time.

Marv: [00:01:49] He found out six weeks later that we had been declared war against us. And the ships that he had already sent in that direction found out six weeks after that event that the war was started. So communications back in those days is obviously was letters sent through sailing ships transiting the Atlantic so people could understand what the plans were and what they were going to do about it. But if you take that forward into the Navy, we’ve always had the same problems even it took 100 years later before the first radio technology was starting to be invented. And the Navy being keenly aware of that, the value that radio technology began doing radio technology research for ships communicating to shore and ship the ship back as far as 1899. But that’s still 100 years after the Tripoli war. And Israel was even founded in 1923 and has always been a key component of Navy communications right up until we went to the satellite communications business. And they in fact, we’re going to launch the first American satellite U.S. satellite after the 1957 launch of the Sputnik satellite. But because of a glitch on the launch platform or the launch vehicle that didn’t send their satellite up, JPL was it was able to send an environmental satellite up in January of 58, followed by the March. Fifty eight in our satellite launch.

Marv: [00:03:25] And the NRL satellite launch is actually still orbiting the Earth. So dirty. All of the people were working in the direction of satellites when the Sputnik launch surprised us. Next time. So what’s rapidly changing today, if any of you are following these things, I doubt that many of you haven’t seen the SpaceX Elon Musk organization return the Falcon nine launchers to land vertically on floating platforms and sure, sure. Sites to return those rocket engines for reuse, which is a big component of what SpaceX has been trying to do ever since they started the company. SpaceX, as it says there, was founded in 2002. And by 2000, 15, I think it was, they got the contract with NASA to supply everything to the International Space Station, because at that time and and to this day, we still had no other launch vehicles that could take anything to the space station or to do other space missions other than using Soviet rocket renting or buying Soviet rockets. So SpaceX, in addition, now has started Starlink international satellite, Internet satellite service. If you’ve been following this, they didn’t start that company until 2015. And by 2018, they had their first two satellites, prototype satellites launched, followed by 60 more satellites. They used all those prototypes to prove out their network. And the stated intention all along has been to have 100 megabit downlink service for 100 dollars a month, any place on the planet. And if you look at what’s happening today as we continue to talk about it, they’ve greatly exceeded that and they’re moving forward.

Marv: [00:05:34] But how did that happen relative to how do they get these up? The thing that’s most amazing to me in my whole career, you know, always cost the DOD or NASA ten to fifteen thousand dollars per pound to put anything in space. And with the technology that Elon Musk and SpaceX have developed, now they’re already delivering. Through Falcon heavy launches to the to the space station, a thousand dollars per pound uplift into space. And if you’re following the new starship, the Mars mission rocket that they’ve been building, that has been practicing their reentry landings and finally landed the first successful one a few weeks ago, that rocket is planning to bring the cost of launch down to twenty five dollars a pound, which is just totally amazing to me. So if you think about twenty five dollars a pound, that’s about like the cost to go into the 7-Eleven, we’re going to be putting things in space at that rate. So because of those capabilities, the Falcon nine, which is the rocket system that they use to launch the and the. The the satellites for for their Starlink like they are launching as many as 60 satellites at one launch and will continue to talk about that next like. There’s a picture of the Falcon nine launching, presumably with starling satellites in it next slide. And there’s a picture from the satellite or from, I guess, the Falcon nine showing how the 60 satellites are arrayed inside the rocket and then systematically released to populate those orbits on the right inclination and in at the right altitude.

Marv: [00:07:37] Next slide. So this is a summary slide on where they are and what’s happening, and so just take a minute on this. First of all, you’ll notice on the altitude there’s a phase one and phase two, as you can see there. And then on the altitude, you see 500, 50 to 75 or 70 kilometers on the phase one part and you see three hundred and thirty five to forty five kilometers on the phase two parts. And normally those are three hundred and forty three hundred fifty mile high orbiting satellites, low earth orbit. And the phase two brings them all the way down to two hundred and ten mile, Constellation’s as low Earth orbit. And if you look at what’s been filled out so far, you see that as of May, they had six hundred and twenty five satellites and only one hundred of those 16, 25 were. And they were either brought back because they were part of the prototypes or they or they have been non-functional. And the deorbit. But if you look at where phase one goes. You can see there’s going to be. What forty two hundred or so satellites in the phase one component, a 350 mile high altitude, and in the phase two component, they’re going to put up another 7500 satellites. So all together on the order of 12000 satellites that they’re going to have by November of 27.

Marv: [00:09:08] And and even by 24, they’re going to have half of those birds in both of those constellations up there serving their Internet service. Next slide. There’s a picture of the sterling five hundred dollar phased array antenna and little modems that go with it to provide that service. Interestingly enough, I have a friend, Dave Bennett, many of you know him from Tulsa. He lives out in the middle of North Carolina, not too far from Pinehurst and a little 11 acre ranch that he built out there. And ever since he’s been there for the last decade, we’ve never been able to get more than a megabit of DSL bandwidth that was even at that choppy and unreliable. And therefore, they’ve never been able to really get any kind of good Internet service to support television and other kinds of things. So soon as I saw these sterling birds being deployed and they were talking about beta users, I recommended to him to sign up for him. So we did sign up for him. And about a month ago, he got his kit is five hundred dollars set up and he went ahead and deployed it. I got a text from him about two weeks ago and he said his first deployment of this Starlee system was netting him 200 megabits, 220 megabits down at 23 milliseconds of latency. So if you think about that, that’s all for one hundred dollars a month. I can barely get two hundred and twenty megabits and that kind of latency out of my Cox cable or my spectrum cable there in San Diego, because it typically doesn’t run much above one hundred and fifty megabits, even though I’m paying for higher service.

Marv: [00:10:57] Next slide. So what about competing satellite systems? There’s been several around, many of you probably have heard that the Navy’s been working on the O3b Middle Earth orbit satellite systems, as you can see there, O3b is deploying anywhere from 10 to 20 satellites to cover the Earth. And in a ship where they’ve already done a couple of live demonstrations, if you put an antenna on the front and an antenna on the back of the ship, you catch the slight satellites coming up over the horizon and then trade off as they go down to catch the next one. Coming up off the horizon, those systems are bringing as much as 650 megabits down to ships. So there is a potential of good use of them. But of course, all of these satellite systems, if they have separate dishes like these, become a problem for our stealthy surface ship desires that we have in current ships. But if you look at this, look through all of those, you know, we’ve been operating Iridium for years all the way through the Gulf Wars, and they’re currently running 75 satellites, of which they really only need about 66 to provide their telephone service. But they do not provide any kind of Internet service. And they can provide text level data services because they’re low bandwidth kinds of devices.

Marv: [00:12:27] There is a plan, Cooper Systems, three hundred and thirty over 3000 little satellites that are being built by Amazon or their subsidiary and. We’ll see how far they go, but they’re not in orbit yet in any form. The one Web satellite constellations built in six hundred forty eight satellites, they are starting to deploy. And you can see down there that orb come. Provides global monitoring services with 29 little communications satellites, and if you’ve been following Google and the project room, you’ll know that we’ve been they’ve been messing around with stratosphere balloons flying at sixty seven thousand feet and providing fairly long overhead Internet services for reasonable bandwidth. So as you can tell from that slide, though, there’s really nothing that has the kinds of density and ability to put satellites in space the way Space X and Starlink are doing. Next slide. So what about military use of these things? To my surprise, the Air Force has been following this closely, and you can see that as of twenty nineteen they had demonstrated 610 megabits down to a Beechcraft C12 aircraft and later they did the same thing with an AC 130 gunship. And in 20, they used it to support their advanced battle management system. Live fire exercise, I presume, with similar kinds of bandwidth, and that IBM’s system is the Air Force’s version of Joint Air Agency to. I think that’s joint all defense command and control, and if you’re following the Navy’s overmatch, you’ll know that overmatch is the Navy’s component of Jetseta at least, and in our words so far.

Marv: [00:14:34] And then, of course, there, of course, has done some other things. Now the Navy is is aware of this. The Navy is trying to do things. But like many things in these in this environment, a lot of this stuff stays classified and they don’t we don’t talk a lot about it. Next slide. So the other part of the Navy Project Overmatch, if you haven’t heard about this, is comes as a service comes as the service began as a one hour project to take our current. Shipboard and airplane data links and provide a routing capability, the route among the data links the obvious reasons, because if we can send a message into a link 16 or other network and get it over to a ship or an airplane, even though they don’t have the link 16 terminal on those airplanes or the other the other platform, then we can take advantage of all the different networks to get messages from one place to the other to support military plans, warfare plans and even firing orders. So that’s been going on for several years and it’s made great progress. And and so now they’re working to try and do an early part of deployment as a part of the overmatch system, in addition to do in the routing. They’re also working on trying to provide low probability intercept and low probability detection, waveform improvements. And a lot of that. You can see if you go in and look at chaotic waveforms and what’s happening in that world where they can spread the signal in such a way that it’s very hard to detect and still capable of distributing a reasonable amount of information, but not by bad information.

Marv: [00:16:24] Next slide. So where does all this leave the Navy? I’ve been saying to the Navy folks for a month or two now, why do we think that there’s going to be any deal in the future if we’ve got anywhere from 12000 to 42000 sterling satellites up? And if you’ve listen to some of the predictions that Elon Musk has made, he’s claiming that these current 100, 200 megabit starling systems, which is really only a small percentage of the planned satellites, is going to eventually deliver one to 10 gigabits per second globally. So there won’t be a place on the planet, whether you’re at sea or you’re in a desert or you’re in any rural area where you really won’t have as much or more bandwidth than anything we can deliver through our high, dense, electrically dense cities in the urban areas. They’re also interested in building out their ground stations by doing it through the working with Google and put in the ground station at Google Data Center, so so anything that they bring down these satellites are laser crosslink. So anything that they bring down will go straight into the Google Data Center and the Google infrastructure that provides very fast service outside to anything that they get in and out of their network.

Marv: [00:17:49] So that will again help speed up the process of sharing information and moving information on the planet. And they’re already working on commercial airplane and ship phased array antenna systems that can provide high bandwidth for those of us flying on airplanes back and forth in the world or taking cruise ships anywhere we want to go in the world. So clearly, there’s an opportunity for us to find solutions for maybe airplanes and Navy ships going forward. And with that much infrastructure, it’s hard to believe that we really can have a little problem, even though the adversaries will be trying to take out our communications. If you think about it, with that many satellites, it becomes very hard to get yourself in the beam of our communications to those satellites. And if they start if they start disrupting the satellites are taking out those satellites, then it’s going to be a bigger issue than just a military issue between the between the companies, because they’re they’re they’re disrupting commercial communications, probably communications that they’ll be themselves riding on, depending on where they are. So the question stands here, and this is again, are we going to have a DDIL in the future after 2027? Next slide, This may be my last slide. Yeah, it is my last slide, so I’m open to any questions or thoughts anybody has about it, I just wanted to make sure that we were having this dialogue about where we’re going with all this technology.

Marv: [00:19:47] Ok, it doesn’t look like we do have any questions that I see on the chat window.

Jack: [00:19:51] Now, I messed up there and didn’t mention now we’re going to take questions via the chat. Why don’t we go ahead and just open it up? Folks want to, you know, question them or just raise your hand in the in the environment here. Go to your your. Icon there and raise your hand and then we’ll call on you. Looks like carious.

Terry: [00:20:23] Well, Marv, it’s good to see you again. I know that you’re still here in the fight with us. So I don’t think you talked much about HF and initiatives to do things like IP over HF and maximizing the the capabilities of that of that waveform and bandwidth.

Marv: [00:20:48] Good point, Terry. And I know we do have some work going on and clearly H.F. has a place in the world. Certainly anybody that’s got a sailboat knows about an H.F.. Communications capability is the only good way you can get over the horizon with your own equipment without going into satellite. So sure, the Navy is always wanted to have multiple layers of communications capability. And even if we have satellites like these, sterling satellites at our disposal will want to have some backups. But as you probably remember, we got into a period, what, 10, 15 years ago when we decided to shut down all the H.F. because we didn’t think we needed it anymore. Of course, that’s before we realized that you can’t just rely on satellites only. So I don’t know the current status of the H.F. program, but I would assume we’re still trying to keep some amount of H.F. on the ships.

Jack: [00:22:01] Aren’t seeing any other hands up anyone else have a question?

Marv: [00:22:10] Or does anybody disagree? I’d be interested to hear anybody that thinks we’re not going to take advantage of these Starlink satellites.

Terry: [00:22:17] Ahmad Weinheimer. Just going to ask you about encryption, and I know on the network side, we’ve taken a lot of commercial off the shelf technologies and kind of layered on the type of encryption in order to make them suitable or at least plausible for D0D use. Just kind of a similar convergence of using DoD encryption to enable commercial comms. Any thoughts in that area?

Marv: [00:22:47] Yeah, it’s a great point, and I’m glad you brought it up. Of course, the Iridium satellite system already does their own encryption. And we’d like your suggestion wouldn’t ever use that satellite system with re encrypting or over encryption. On top of that, another great discussion that we could get into about encryption is just where it block change play a role in the future of all these command and control systems. But we’ll leave that for another day. But it’s it’s a subject that I spent a lot of time learning and reading about to include and understanding these crypto currencies that are so interesting today.

Jack: [00:23:31] Is right. Ken Ritter has a question. Go ahead, Ken.

Ken: [00:23:36] There are a lot of long discussions these days about overmatch and. For that, and you kind of addressed the. Where do you think the Navy needs to go with regards to the future programs and establish the new standards or requirements that will help them achieve some of their goals on overmatch? Any some of the efforts today are dealing with a gang of getting the capability out to what is today, obviously going forward. But as you touched on communications, it also has ramifications with outside design and has implications for network ramifications for integration with the combat systems program on the.

Marv: [00:24:28] Yeah, I could talk for hours about requirements and specifications and standards for acquisition. I find it sort of amusing that we have built ourselves into this box, that we can’t or don’t think we can build anything until we have a requirement for it, even though we discover things that have wonderful warfighter value. Here’s a good example of that. What’s going on right now? You probably know that we’re building battle management aids, which are just small applications to support different features or functions to support both human in the loop and human on the loop for both command and control and weapon control, which is really a part of overmatch. And of course, then they also are calling for it to be augmented or driven by AI and machine learning so that we get the best of all of that great technology future. But when you go back and look at some of the programs like MTC to the OPNET, folks will say, well, we’ll support those battle management aides as long as we have a requirement for them. So we’re almost trying to put a roadblock in place that says you may create a great BMA and we may or may not let it be sustained and supported if we can figure out that there’s a requirement for it, rather than just saying to the warfighter to do like this, do you want it? Let’s make it a requirement.

Marv: [00:25:53] So, you know, all of these kinds of activities, whether you’re talking about the comm satellites or anything else, we will make the process go very, very slow, which is part of what I was trying to point out. So Starlee started up as a as a functioning capability inside of Starlink in 2015. And they were they had their first birds on orbit in a two and a half, three years. And they’ve got a working constellation already up in 2021 with 12000 plus satellites planned by 2007. I mean, we can’t even get off the dime to get the Palm in and get the requirements in and start to say we’re going to do any of that stuff if we just stick to the formal acquisition process. So, as you know, I’ve been a big. Non proponent of the way we do it, and I’m a very big proponent of the use of other transaction authority, OTUS prototypes and prototype to a sole source as a way to bypass this acquisition system that is ill serving our military members and serving our taxpayer dollars and serving everything about what we do despite what the bureaucracy thinks or likes about it. Thank you.

Jack: [00:27:13] Let’s see what we got, a more technical question. Do you know if Starlink can be used for global navigation as an alternative to GPS?

Marv: [00:27:25] A great question, to my knowledge, there’s nothing being done that would allow that to easily operate as an alternative to GPS. There’s some great graphics that show where all of the different satellite systems are relative to the altitude around the Earth for these different systems, and of course, there’s already multiple GPS systems up there that we can try and tap into as we need to. And just like you navigate through your Google map or your other maps on your telephone, obviously we can navigate through Starlink because when you have that kind of Internet bandwidth, you can do anything you want to. But that’s not the same as saying that if somebody takes out our GPS, we can transition to these other birds as the representation of where things are. But actually, mathematically, I think it can be done. I just don’t know how they would control the signals to make something like a GPS receiver receive those signals. So to my knowledge, no is the answer, I guess.

Jack: [00:28:31] Ok. Looking for other hands, I don’t see any right now.

Marv: [00:28:41] One other comment on the GPS, though, I assume they’re the listeners know that the Navy has been working on using stars as alternate GPS accuracy locations for years and years, and it can be done. We can use stars as an alternate GPS.

Jack: [00:29:01] Interesting. OK, any other questions, just go open, Mike, if. Well, I think that’s it. I very much appreciate you taking the time to speak, speak with us and present all this. I find it being in support of Moby’s objective system. I find it very interesting how all this is going to fold together and talk about it a lot. And but I appreciate your time and I’d like to thank everybody for attending. Want to open it up. If there’s any outside organizations that would like to make an announcement that we didn’t get to just go ahead and. We got to actually mark up your mike,

Terry: [00:29:59] Does Marv want to say something about his blog and everything he has going on over there?

Marv: [00:30:06] Here, thanks for the opportunity to mention it.

Terry: [00:30:10] Yeah, well, I thought it looked really great. I couldn’t wait to dig into it.

Marv: [00:30:14] Yeah. For anybody that’s interested. Jim Petrucciani talked me into trying to start a webinar series with him. And so we’ve been bringing guest folks on to talk through 30 minute discussions on various interesting things like national security, the relationship to China, technology issues like 5G. And we have a host of great folks lined up to do that. And you’ll see them continuing to come out both on my website, which is on the first slide that I had up there. You can also find these things directly on YouTube if you just search for Smart Future Webinar, because I post them under that name Smart Future Webinar. And so far there’s only three of them posted. I asked them to give me permission to post this, see a discussion up there, so I’ll put that up there as well and have an opportunity for people to refer to it as a recorded activity if they want to look back at it. And we will continue to have on approximately a weekly basis additional speakers. The one that’s planned for this Friday is on 5G and the relationship to cybersecurity and the challenges that it presents. So thank you, Stephanie.

Jack: [00:31:37] And Stephanie went ahead and put the link to that webinar series in the chat window if you want to collect it. All right. Any other announcements? That is covered. All right, Bill, once again, thanks a lot, Marva, very much, appreciate it. Always enjoy talking to you, hearing you speak. And thanks to all our attendees one more time. And we do, you know, pound my foot, thump the table on next next month. Carly Jackson on the 20th, on the afternoon, a similar time as this. And but then in the later afternoon, we’ll have we’ll be having our first in-person happy hour. We’ll be doing some presentations of awards and hopefully some of the scholarships to be announced, if not presented, and then just having a good chat with everybody over a over a a beverage. So I’m very much looking forward to seeing everyone. All right. Thanks a lot. Thanks, Stephanie, for pulling all this together. And everybody on the team very much appreciate it.

Terry: [00:32:50] Thank you.

Marv: [00:32:52] Thank you. All right.