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US adversaries are more and more capable of penetrating US unclassified or barely protected systems. The bulk of military satellite communication services are provided by the Air Force Wideband Global Satcom, or WGS, satellites and by commercial operators. All these systems require additional protection from cyber attacks.

Commercial satcom as well as military purpose-built Wideband satellites were never designed to provide protection against some of the things we expect our adversaries to do in the near future, Col. Tim Mckenzie chief of the advanced development division for military satellite communications at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center told spacenews.com.

In response, the Air Force is developing software and satcom ground equipment to boost the protection of WGS networks in the near term, and commercial systems at a later time.

The central piece of the cyber security upgrade is anti-jam communications software — called the Protected Tactical Waveform (PTW). A ground system, the Protected Tactical Enterprise Service (PTES) will manage the transmission of the waveform over WGS satellites and terminals.

Boeing, which manufactures the WGS satellites, was awarded a seven-year, $383 million contract to develop the ground system.

Whatever new hardware makes up the space segment, it will be compatible with the PTES ground equipment. Mckenzie noted that the Air Force has been criticized for deploying satellites before the ground equipment is available. The PTW and PTES efforts reverse that trend. “We have learned lessons from being out of sync with terminals on the ground,” Mckenzie said. “We’ve been working for the last several years to develop modem upgrades that can be put into our existing terminals so we have terminals that can use PTW.”

To get fresh thinking on how to develop a secure satcom system, the Air Force Space Enterprise Consortium is funding four design and prototyping projects. These are four areas “where we’re trying to reduce risk,” he said. The Air Force is interested in new ideas for constellation architectures, payload hosting concepts, advanced space processing and antenna designs.

McKenzie expects contracts for the development of protected tactical satcom payloads will be awarded in fiscal year 2020, with a goal to start launching new systems into orbit by 2025.