Rick Lober, vice president and general manager of the Defense and Intelligence Systems Division of Hughes Network Systems, recently took part in an Executive Spotlight interview with ExecutiveBiz detailing the importance of network management as well as the advancement of multi-constellation networks and the challenges with implementing SDN capabilities.
“The military is still conducting a refresh of their core communications equipment, and that was started almost 15 to 20 years ago! Meanwhile, the commercial industry is probably doing that tech refresh about 5-10 times faster…That’s where we can bring our experience together with the DOD requirements to customize defense networks that leverage all available technologies to deliver information accessibility and assurance in any environment.”
You can read the full Executive Spotlight with Rick Lober below:
ExecutiveBiz: What can you tell us about the importance of network management within the DOD and other federal agencies? What are the advantages of establishing a one-stop-shop service to stay ahead of the curve on advanced technology and offer tailored service?
Rick Lober: “Network management is absolutely critical in all communication systems. We personally experience this essential capability every day with our cell phones and the internet service in our homes. Those all operate on managed networks. We don’t go out and try to set up that type of service ourselves — buying bandwidth from providers, provisioning networks and connecting the devices to them on our own.
However, that’s essentially what has happened at the DOD, particularly in satellite communications, when they procure bandwidth, then buy ground stations and set them up… and then user terminals… and then try to manage the networks. Yet that network management layer is the lowest hanging fruit in terms of creating a much more efficient, reliable and resilient satellite communications system.
That’s where the one stop shop is so important. For example, at Hughes, we’re looking at leveraging different types of satellite constellations and different orbits for more resilient, seamless satellite networking services. GEO, MEO, and LEO satellites, each orbiting at different altitudes and integrated by a network services provider into a single solution, offer advantages that no single communications transport can provide in isolation for all applications.
We’re also looking at terrestrial connectivity over fiber, and we’re looking at LTE and 5G communications, which brings it right back to the importance of network management in taking care of the entire multi-constellation and multi-transport configuration.
Those are complex solutions that are our expertise, not the DOD’s. We have over a million and a half subscribers in our consumer business across two continents – a managed network of its own — and almost half a million enterprise sites under management worldwide.
Right now, we are working on some specific programs for the DOD in the network and mission management area, both for the Army in their communications command and for the Space Force on their new protected tactical satellite communication system. We have the experience and the vendor relationships to procure, integrate, implement and manage these complex networks – and that frees the military to focus on the mission.”
ExecutiveBiz: With the advancement of space technology and satellite constellations being of the utmost importance for our national security, what can you tell us about the advent of Very High Throughput Satellite (VHTS) GEO constellations and the impact of adding multi constellation networks such as MEO and LEO for Hughes and your customers?
Rick Lober: “Hughes is involved in all three constellation types: geostationary, medium-Earth and low-Earth orbit. In our defense group – and across our enterprise and mobility businesses — we are working on operating and integrating systems in all three orbital domains.
Very High Throughput GEO satellites can lay down a lot of capacity directly where the need is. We’re moving to larger, higher-capacity satellites using higher frequency bands, which are typically used only by the military. We’re looking at optical communications, which is very wide bandwidth, and all of that is being considered in the current GEO satellite systems.
Medium-Earth-orbit satellites can also lay down a good amount of capacity over specific areas. They offer wider coverage and bring redundancy that’s so important to military networks.
LEO is where we’re seeing a lot of new activity in the industry. Hughes is involved with OneWeb, as an investor and a technology partner, developing the gateway electronics and core modules for the system. We recently initiated an integrated LEO service at a Northern military base located in the Arctic – which we believe is the first instance of a very high throughput LEO activation for the U.S. military in this region.
We see GEO and non-geostationary (NGSO) satellites working together in a complementary way, with GEO providing the capacity density and LEO, for instance, delivering service in hard-to-reach areas like the Polar regions and over the oceans. Bringing it all together goes back to network management, and in particular, software-defined networking for additional flexibility, scalability and even integration with terrestrial and 5G.
Software defined networking allows us to manage communications on a packet-by-packet basis, switching the routing of each small bit of information across various transports and orbits to achieve the highest level of network efficiency and resiliency. With this capability, we’re able to support the military’s Primary, Alternate, Contingency and Emergency (PACE) planning requirements.”
ExecutiveBiz: With the expansion of the Arctic region becoming so significant to our national security efforts, what can you tell us about the advantages of leveraging LEO capabilities and advancing communications to ensure U.S. supremacy in the arctic region moving forward?
Rick Lober: “The Arctic is becoming much more important as time goes on for a wide range of reasons for DOD and commercial users – from tracking climate change to conducting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Until now, one of the challenges with operating in the Arctic was having high speed reliable communications.
GEO satellites have been around for decades, yet they orbit the earth over the equator, very far away from the Arctic region and at a very low look angle from the ground. On the other hand, the real advantage of LEO satellites, which are often in a polar orbit and are moving quickly relative to the Earth, is that they cross over the poles quite frequently.
LEO satellites also provide lower latency, which is important for certain applications. In our LEO installation in the Arctic, we’re seeing speeds of 50 megabits per second down and about 10 megabits per second up into an area that has had very limited connectivity in the past.”
ExecutiveBiz: As we continue to modernize our military communications and systems for our warfighters, what are the greatest challenges implementing AI, machine learning and software-defined networking (SDN) capabilities to ensure our warfighters have flexibility, agility and secure communications?
Rick Lober: “I think one of the areas that people misunderstand about AI is that it’s not a computer making a decision. It’s a computer helping a human with information that allows that person to make a more informed decision for a mission.
A good example is the DOD’s JADC2 program, the Joint All Domain and Command and Control System that will tie together satellite, line of sight and terrestrial communications into one interoperable system.
Here you will have a tremendous amount of network management that will need software-defined networking to help the network make decisions on how to route those signals. For us to make this all operate effectively, we use artificial intelligence, machine learning and rules-based engines in the decision making.
Our Terminal Management Agent is another great example. Here we use AI and ML to control multiple modems and roam across various satellite networks.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that today, the military is still conducting a refresh of their core communications equipment, and that was started almost 15 to 20 years ago! Meanwhile, the commercial industry is probably doing that tech refresh about 5-10 times faster.
It’s essential for the military to leverage that commercial communications capability more quickly. And that’s where we can bring our experience together with the DOD requirements to customize defense networks that leverage all available technologies to deliver information accessibility and assurance in any environment.”
Rick Lober is currently the vice president and general manager of the Defense and Intelligence Systems Division of Hughes Network Systems. He formerly led the Communications Business Unit at Cubic managing their efforts in line-of-sight data links, and before that, held positions ranging from design engineer to P&L executive at Watkins-Johnson Company for their many signal-intelligence products. He received his BS and MS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois and currently resides in Annapolis, Md., near the Chesapeake Bay, where he and his wife do a lot of sailing.