Hughes Looks to the Future with LEO and 5G

Editor-in-chief Andrew Drwiega was in discussion with Rick Lober, vice president and general manager, Defense & Government Systems Division, Hughes Defense regarding his company’s attendance at AUSA.

“We are doing a lot of work with LEO with our customer OneWeb. We have developed the entire ground system which will be complete by early next year, “said Rick Lober.

“We have developed an electronically steered antenna array which is critical for LEO communications. It is a small, flat-panel portable unit that can be used by military forces anywhere in the world, including the polar regions. One of the first examples of the OneWeb service, with Hughes providing the integration, is being done for the US Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) at Pituffik Space Base (formerly Thule Air Base) in Greenland, delivering connectivity to the northernmost US military site with secure, end-to-end service.

“It is a LEO only antenna for fixed site applications, but we are working on a roadmap to bring it into airborne and shipboard applications, as well as into vehicles on the move,” said Lober. He added that the LEO antenna will be available from November this year using OneWeb.

Lober said that Hughes is a small investor and value-added reseller. We have a lot of technical knowledge about the system which will benefit integration type programmes that the military is using. We are very interested in taking the OneWeb modem and putting it into a CMOSS open architecture. We are looking to work with larger primes to repackage the modem into a 3U VPX (a computer bus technology that is used to connect components of a computer. It is commonly used by defense contractors).

5G is also important and Hughes has recently won an OTA (Other Transaction Authority) contract from the DoD to build a standalone 5G network at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington state. The 5G network is supporting operations, maintenance and flight traffic management.

We are talking to the army about potential applications on their bases or in the field.

5G offers lower latency, higher speeds and its ability to do Smart Network Edge computing, remotely managing multi-transport modems. “This means that decisions can be made immediately rather than data going back to the Cloud. It really speeds up the decision making process,” said Lober.

“Going forward, we are looking at Non Terrestrial Networks (NTN) – satellite direct to cellphone. We are launching an initial constellation for IOT type networks. We hope to build that to 5G capability in the future. Interest in that will come from the Army for handheld and portable type communications,” said Lober.

“We are looking to tie everything together: OneWeb, LEO, 5G – what we call multi-orbit/multi-transport, whether it be MEO/LEO or even terrestrial using software defined networking to make the decision regarding which path the signal may go over. In the military they use PACE (Primary, Alternate, Contingency and Emergency), where the operator is given recommendations or the connection is done automatically, based on pre-programmed criteria. In the future AI or basic ML may be brought into that decision process.

Asked what difficulties customers faced in improving their networks, Lober noted: “Military customers can improve on their network management. Systems in service are often stove-piped and the Army faces a challenge in managing those various networks. Legacy platforms today don’t work that well together in terms of resilience or contingency. Their networks could benefit from network management techniques already in use in the civil world which is ahead of the military.”

Hughes has been tracking and engaging in prototyping work over many years regarding enterprise management control. The objective is to improve resilience and efficiency as well as controlling costs.

On 22 August, Hughes was awarded a five-year, Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract with a value up to $900 million the DoD to provide the US Space Force with proliferated Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite-based services.

by Andrew Drwiega