Today's Army: Willing. Able. Ready?
Every day, L3Harris pushes the boundaries of technologies for communications, navigation, and remote sensing—then combines these technologies with an in-depth mission understanding to create solutions that enable a ready national defense force.
After becoming the US Army’s 39th Chief of Staff in August 2015, General Mark Milley sent a message to his troops declaring his top three priorities: readiness (the current fight), future army (the future fight), and taking care of the troops (always). He elaborated in an October 2015 article in the Army's 2015-2016 Green Book:
“Readiness to win in ground combat must remain the Army’s No. 1 priority. We were unprepared for the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the post-invasion Iraq insurgency, and many other military operations throughout history….We collectively owe it to the soldiers we lead and the nation we defend to ensure that we organize, equip, staff, train and lead our Army to prevail in the unforgiving crucible of ground combat.”
Then again, in a January 2016 memo to Army leaders on Army Readiness Guidance, Calendar Year 2016-17, Milley wrote boldly beside his signature at the bottom: “Readiness is #1…And there is no other #1.” Strong words from a strong leader.
Prevailing on the ground today requires readiness across multiple domains and unprecedented global situational awareness. We live in an increasingly unstable global political environment. Today’s battleground can encompass land, air, space, and cyberspace. Our adversaries range from entire nations to small, agile groups who move quickly and cross borders. And they have access to technologies that once gave our forces critical advantages.
As a result, we see the Army reaching out for new technologies and new approaches—and this is exciting.
Tapping into the Benefits of NewSpace
Seven years ago—and with admirable foresight—the Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC) launched a mission that would prove the viability of using small satellites to help the warfighter. A paper prepared for the 30th Annual AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites stated that the 4 kilogram 3U SMDC-ONE cubesat demonstrated how smallsats could “perform exfiltration of unattended ground sensors data and serve as a communications relay between ground stations over 1000 land miles apart.”1
Since SMDC-ONE, the Army has sent more smallsats into orbit and continues to explore their potential. One effort moving ahead is a low Earth orbit communication system with the potential to provide beyond-line-of-site support for on-the-move brigade combat teams as part of the Warfighter Information Network – Tactical, or WIN-T. Known as ARGOS, short for Army Resilient Global On-the-Move SATCOM, this system will use ultra-high frequency through Army tactical radios for voice and text capability in the field. It will also employ unmanned ground sensor data exfiltration for force protection and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance situations. This could all be enabled by a constellation of smallsats with onboard software-defined radio technology, an area L3Harris is maturing for a wide range of space communications applications.
Although NewSpace technologies like smallsats are often thought of as making space more accessible for commercial purposes, the Army and other US military users also benefit from more affordable missions (a constellation of smallsats can enable broader and more persistent coverage) and the development of components and payloads with reduced size, weight, and power requirements (SWaP).
At L3Harris, for example, we have been applying our decades of on-orbit success in large unfurlable space antenna production to manufacture Ka-band antenna reflectors that stow into small launch envelopes and deploy in space to achieve remarkably high communication data rates.
We are adapting our software-defined payload architecture, L3Harris AppSTAR™, to enable smallsat mission operators to carry out communications and Earth observation missions—they can even reconfigure these payloads while on orbit. (The “full-size” version is now orbiting Earth and enabling the first real-time, global air traffic surveillance service and the first real-time global maritime vessel tracking solution.)
Low-SWaP demands have pushed us toward more innovative manufacturing processes and materials for remote-sensing optics that reduce delivery time by 90 percent and are 25 percent lighter than conventional optics. We are also putting our proven hyperspectral imaging capability (of rising interest for material identification) into a 6U cubesat form. And our SpaceView™ imaging solutions for smallsats can capture high-resolution images up to 1-meter ground sample distance across a broad spectral range—from the visible through infrared and up to eight multispectral bands. Most models can double system coverage on a single smallsat or serve multiple missions from the same payload.
An Alternative for GPS
The space-based US Global Positioning System (GPS) is essential to today’s military operations. Mission-critical activities ranging from weapons targeting and unmanned systems guidance to battlefield command and control and supply deliveries depend on the navigation and timing accuracy provided by GPS. But with dependence comes risk, and society’s reliance on GPS time for critical infrastructures was documented as a long-term national security risk in 2011.
To protect and aid warfighters, the Army’s Assured Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) program has taken a system-of-systems approach—terrestrial-based systems that use mounted platforms, dismounted soldiers, anti-jam antennas, and small ground-based transceivers for broadcasting location information called pseudolites.
L3Harris, which has been providing key navigation and timing solutions to the GPS program since its earliest days, has been investing research and development funds to address the need for an alternative for precision timing. Timing is a critical component for synchronizing operations, timestamping, and navigation, and L3Harris’ PNT experts have engaged with the government and the Stanford University Center to demonstrate a backup timing system for the continental US. The team envisions a robust network that leverages multiple signals of opportunity to provide accurate, available, and trusted time anywhere in the continental US for the purpose of validating the GPS time source or replacing GPS should the signal be interrupted.
Advancing Tactical Space Superiority from the Battlefield
More than a decade ago—2005, to be precise—an AUSA Background Brief entitled The Army’s Interest in Space Control, stated that “Based on the nation’s continued interest in space control, the Army is pushing to help quantify, secure and maintain US space superiority to best support the commander and the Soldier on the battlefield.” According to the report, the Army’s approach to space superiority included “development of critical space control-capable systems to meet Army unique needs.”
And that means executing space superiority strategies from the battlefield.
At L3Harris, we have been part of a team working to advance tactical space superiority through compact, high-performance, software-defined radios. Like space-based systems, ground systems used in the field benefit greatly from low-SWaP components. This particular SATCOM solution can replace today’s multi-rack configuration, which requires a cumbersome box-truck-sized vehicle, with a small array of components that offer increased functionality and fit neatly into the new fast-moving armored vehicles expected to replace many of the current fleet of Army Humvees.
Enabling Essential Global Satellite Communications
At the heart of Army readiness is a strong global communications backbone, and the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) system provides the flexible, high-capacity satellite communications services that enable combatant commanders to effectively command and control their tactical forces anywhere in the world today. The Army keeps this system and other legacy Department of Defense (DoD) and commercial satellite systems working smoothly through the Wideband SATCOM Operations and Technical Support program, or WSOTS.
L3Harris has a team of about 160 multiskilled professionals working to deliver this program. Our personnel are on the “front lines” every day, integrating the data streaming in from the wide range of satellite monitoring and control systems and providing central supply “depot” services for the Army SATCOM operations centers. We look for potential threats to the DoD wideband SATCOM mission, identify problem sources, and help soldiers reconfigure operations to keep these global communications systems performing so that warfighters are protected and get the information they need to stay connected and do their jobs. Looking ahead, with the goal of helping the Army achieve true space superiority, we are applying L3Harris’ broad understanding of ground systems and on-orbit assets, as well as global communications networking, to support the Army’s move away from stovepipe systems to tightly integrated monitoring and control systems.
Training for Tomorrow’s Battlefield
Keeping Army space operators at the top of their game is no small task. The Army requires new, realistic training, test, and exercise environments to achieve the highest possible readiness. To help with needs like this, L3Harris developed a training scenario engine and a high-fidelity user interface for live, virtual, and constructive training—wherever the warfighter is.
Customized for specific missions, this solution offers a total-immersion training experience. The user interface connects directly to operational systems. Realistic scenarios are created using web-based, non-linear editing like those of movie production applications. Software-defined radio technology is applied to reflect real-world signal environments. A closed-loop test and evaluation environment lets operators try new and innovative tactics and techniques—without impacting operational assets. And with a small footprint, this unique training system can be used for unit-level as well as national-level training, including brigade combat team deployments.
Efficiency for a Multi-domain Theater
Army readiness—being prepared for any enemy and any threat from the ground to space and cyberspace—grows more complex and costlier every year. But new platforms enabled by low-SWaP technologies, new training solutions, and enhanced sustainment practices can go a long way toward new capabilities that save lives and increased efficiencies that reduce the time from concept to operations and, ultimately, lower costs.
1 U.S. Army Small Space Update, 30th Annual AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites, June, 2016