Space has become fundamental to our way of life. Paul Spedding explains why it is so important to national security and Defence
Achieving information superiority is recognised as being key to success in defence and security. However, this raises issues about how information is shared and gained, what can be outsourced to partners or commercial companies, and what must be retained as sovereign and under UK control. As attacks become ever more diverse, imaginative and complex, understanding what is trustworthy – and what is not – has become a key priority.
Attacks in the digital realm occur on multiple fronts and this demands comprehensive national situational awareness. Decision making must take place where it has the greatest impact and that means supporting tactical commanders on the ground, as well as those making strategic and more orchestrated decisions back home. And operations must not be compromised by vulnerable communications.
All this is why space has fast become the fifth military domain.
Strengthening our defences in space
Space affords us reach and a degree of resilience to physical attack but it has been susceptible to cyber and electronic warfare (EW) advances and our satellites capabilities are fixed and static. Today, though, a highly dynamic space based data network can be created using a combination of breakthrough technologies and this can be extended into terrestrial networks too.
The use of cyber and EW resilient command and control links and data devices, more commonly known as ‘software defined radios’ is key. These latest tools have a capacity for processing and reconfigurability, enabling a truly flexible data fabric.
Each device is capable of imparting intelligence to the system, each one is capable of being reconfigured for its role, each is capable of being upgraded and adapted remotely or collaborating with other devices in the network. Just as the term “phone” no longer defines our mobile phones, the word “radio” no longer defines the next generation of software defined radios.
Edge operations are supported, mission networks enabled and security can be raised to reflect a change in national posture, or to suit a particular mission risk profile.
Tailored local situational awareness can also be developed and maintained, intelligence functions can be employed across the network and sub networks to counter spoofing and third party cooperative engagements can be supported. And thanks to the use of modern analytical tools, all of this will be able to be done without over-burdening the user.
The impact of low earth satellites
The other breakthrough has been in the democratisation and affordability of space by low earth orbit satellites (LEO). There is now the opportunity to create a more diverse UK space industry which can capitalise upon and nurture the invention the UK is recognised for.
LEO satellites may have limited payload capacities, but when equipped with intelligent data devices, such assets can share data and collaborate. They can work as teams to carry the load, they can support national resilience such as in the case of denied GNSS and they can collaborate with more than just space assets, building a layered approach to resilience.
Most importantly perhaps, this resilient and secure data network must be a living thing. When fielded, each intelligent data node must be reprogrammable. For the UK to be truly competitive; the capability must also be open. It must support evolution by more than those that originally invented it.
From theory to action
To make this a reality, national skills need to be nurtured and scaled, as do supply chains. To help expedite pace and build momentum, there are ways of bringing specialist skills to bear in highly classified environments, without the need for individuals to be security vetted or operate from List X facilities – which are those where classified information is held.
Our ground stations, fixed and deployed, can be secured with multi-level security devices produced in line with National Cyber Security Centre patterns, safely importing third party data from partners and commercial providers. Sovereign command and control links, sovereign encryption and sovereign waveforms, and whilst the hardware devices and platforms need not be sovereign, they do need to support the flexibility and waveforms required.
Such a data fabric is likely to prove to be one of the most significant enablers of high tempo Integrated or Fusion Operations. It will also create the experimentation platform essential for us to learn how to fight and upon which to train our algorithms.
Getting there, though, will require a culture of experimentation and a mindset which is not overly concerned with trying to predict minutiae details and ROIs through the fog of the future. After all, when texting started to scale with Nokia in 1999, Amazon was an online bookstore, Google was one year old and Zuckerberg was still at school. Such is the pace of change.
About the author
Paul Spedding is Head of Pre-Sales & Strategy, Defence, at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence
BAE Systems Space
Learn more about our capabilities
We have been working in this ‘Space’ for more than two decades. We have specialist technologies in waveforms, electronics, antenna and digital signal processing and analytics with 20 years in ground based signal processing for various space agencies.Find out more
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