The fog of war: maintaining sovereignty and independence through Satcoms

More critical, yet more vulnerable, than ever, military satellite communications (Satcoms) are at the centre of the battle for strategic independence over situational awareness across multiple domains.

War is ever changing. The nature of the adversary, the domains where battles take place, the tactics and tools deployed, are all variables in constant flux. Yet one critical element remains unchanged: the reliance on information for situational awareness. 

As the world witnesses a resurgence of inter-state tensions, featuring adversaries with highly capable means, Satcoms are more critical than ever to retain strategic independence. They are also vulnerable to an increasing number of menaces that threaten a military’s ability to retain situational awareness and tactical superiority across multiple domains at all times. 

Satcoms as a strategic situational awareness tool

Situational awareness entails an in-depth understanding of the situation in a theatre of operations at any given time, thus limiting the proverbial fog of war: uncertainty. Critical factors of situational awareness include the ability to acquire all available facts, understand them in context, envision possible future development scenarios, and predict how outside forces may impact those scenarios. Building full situational awareness requires a wide variety of tools to capture large volumes of data - voice, photos, videos, etc. - that need to be analysed as quickly as possible to aid decision-making.

No one single military action domain – be it physical or virtual – can gather all the data necessary for full situational awareness in a theatre of operations. Land, air and naval forces need to work jointly and share information to aid tactical decision-making. Yet roads, cities, mountains, rivers and underwater conditions are but a few of the factors that limit the ability to gather and communicate information beyond line-of-sight. As such, cross-domain interoperability is critical to creating as detailed and up-to-date a picture as possible. 

“The only way for soldiers to communicate anywhere and at any time is via satellite. There are other methods of communicating, but only over short distances. Satcoms help maintain communication in the theatre of operations, where the need to share and exchange ever more information is constantly growing,” says Franck Chatain, Satcom Product Line Manager at Thales.

Satcoms, which rely on satellites positioned on specific orbits to transmit information from point A to point B, have evolved to overcome the limits of line-of-sight communications. They are also designed to work over frequencies that facilitate the transmission of large volumes of data between different platforms and across multiple domains. Generally thought of as more reliable in all situations than other means of communications - such as HF, VHF and UHF radios - they remain nonetheless vulnerable to a number of threats.

Evolving threats

Over the past couple of decades, warfare has developed around the terrorist threat: non-state actors deploying combat strategies and tactics with varying degrees of sophistication. Although unpredictable in nature - but by no means any less devastating - these attacks and the means deployed could nonetheless be countered by state forces’ ability to operate jointly across multiple domains. Satcoms were key to land, air and sea forces working together to share critical information for real-time decision-making, and the vulnerability of such communications to non-state groups remained limited. 

Today, the resurgence of tensions among state powers is challenging such tactical superiority over situational awareness. A terrorist group might have been able to jam a GPS signal, but its ability to go beyond jamming remained limited. A state, on the other hand, has the means and the ability to hack or jam satellites, or to intercept communications, with a view to gathering critical information and/or locating enemy troops. 

Ensuring sovereignty over communications - how Thales can help

“There is an increasing concern today with regard to threats against Satcoms,” says Franck Chatain, “so there is a need for secured and protected systems that can guarantee connectivity and communication against any type of threat.” 

Thales, a European leader in military Satcom networks, leverages decades of expertise in Satcom systems to offer armed forces end-to-end, interoperable communication systems that are protected against electronic warfare threats. 

Thales Alenia Space has supplied military telecommunications systems as prime contractor for more than 35 years in France, Italy and Germany with the Syracuse, Sicral Athena-Fidus and Satcom BW programmes. In late 2015, the French defence procurement agency DGA notably selected the consortium formed by Thales Alenia Space (65%) and Airbus Defence and Space (35%) to build and deliver the military satellite communications system Syracuse IV in order to give France a higher-performance system that features new services. The company has also exported products that capitalise on its dual telecom system expertise to several foreign countries. 

The System21 solution, with its dedicated network management system, is a highly secure transmission system that guarantees the availability and confidentiality of all communications. It not only allows high volumes of data to be exchanged in all types of electronic warfare threat environments - jamming, interference, interception, detection and cyberattacks - but also ensures that orders can be relayed to troops in the field, wherever they are.  Thales also offers complete integration between all different types of technologies - transmission, networks, encryption, radio, antenna, hardening and utilities – for all types of platforms, fixed and mobile, evolving in the most constrained environments, and across all domains (on land, in the air and at sea). 

States around the world are developing a wide range of threats against Satcoms at all levels, from the jamming of ground/naval/air segments to the hacking of satellites. Yet Satcoms are key to maintaining tactical superiority as they ensure the ability to make fast, well-informed decision-making across all domains in any type of environment. Through the development of highly secure transmission systems, Thales offers uninterrupted information exchange, allowing armed forces to maintain situational awareness at all times, dissipating the fog of war.