Military communications are becoming more vulnerable
A potential nightmare for combatant commanders is a “day without space.”This is certainly a vulnerability the Chicoms and the Russians appear eager to exploit. China is developing anti satellite systems, and the US response appears to be building much smaller satellites that are more numerous making it harder and more costly to attack space assets. The Russians have been using submarines to lurk over undersea cables that connect the internet to the world. This will probably lead to more hunter killer subs to protect the lines of communication.
In this scenario, a peer or near-peer competitor severely limits U.S. forces’ access to military communication and navigation spacecraft through jamming or something more destructive, such as anti-satellite weapons.
“Space is no longer a sanctuary. It is a contested environment. We have known that for a while, especially with peer competitors,” David Madden, director of the military satellite communications systems directorate at the Air Force Space and Missile Center, said at the Milcom conference in San Diego.
Current doctrine calls for operations to continue in anti-access, area-denied confrontations, he noted.
The services are already training for that day.
Lt. Gen. John A. Toolan Jr., commanding general of I Marine Expeditionary Force based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., said operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Marines were deployed in fixed sites, made them “addicted to big-pipe, space-based systems” to deliver the bandwidth necessary to communicate.
“We developed an overdependence on high-bandwidth communication systems and the contractors required to run them,” he said.
There is now a mandate that Marines must conduct parts of their large-scale training exercises with degraded communications and GPS capabilities to simulate an adversary attacking space-based systems, he said.
That means they must operate with line-of-sight, high frequency, terrestrial radios, with retransmission sites to keep expeditionary units connected, he said.
Meanwhile, the four services are in the beginning stages of developing a concept called the joint area layered network, an Earth-based system that could provide crucial communication links when milsatcoms are degraded, or lost. The Navy is also moving out with its next-generation battle force tactical network-enhanced, which may also serve as an ad hoc communication system.
At the core of these concepts are meshed networks, where each radio, or vehicle, serves as a node. The Army is developing on a smaller scale the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) system, where every radio — whether it is carried in a backpack or is vehicle-mounted — serves as a repeater. A soldier may be cut off from the rest of the force, but if he has line-of-sight communications with at least one other radio, and that second node can connect to others, he can join the network.