The Critical Link

Next-generation commercial SATCOM technology must be integrated into Canada’s global security infrastructure

image of a navy ship

Today’s global defence landscape is changing rapidly, both on Earth and in Space.

Driven by climate change, new geopolitical dynamics, emerging technologies, and rising security threats to our national sovereignty, defending our country and the Arctic is now more important than ever before. To keep pace with these developments, governments around the world are increasingly prioritizing the role space plays in their defence infrastructure.

The global space industry has also changed dramatically since the turn of the last century, becoming more dynamic, innovative and increasingly relevant. Traditionally, defence projects in space were directed and developed exclusively by government and defence entities. The pace of technological innovation was incremental, often bogged down by procurement processes, cost over runs, and a fundamental lack of urgency, not seen since the initial space race to put humans on the moon. Today, a new space race is emerging with commercial companies driving the development, launches and advancements in space-based assets and capabilities both for commercial and defence purposes.

Over the past several years, we have seen generational leaps in technological capabilities with many calling this sea change the transition from “Old Space” to “New Space.” This New Space economy is a fast-growing, global industry, and countries are investing billions of dollars every year into their domestic commercial space companies and capabilities.

Space has always been an essential component of national security and emerging technologies in space will be fundamental in delivering the greatest capabilities to our women and men in uniform.

Old space “technocracy” New space “netocracy”
Secret Transparent
Military-led Industry-led
Independent Networked
Siloed Interoperable
Large-scale cooperation Precise ally cooperation
Few, large platforms (vulnerable) Many, small platforms (resilient)
Geostationary Orbit Low Earth Orbit
Slow, top-down innovation Rapid, bottom-up innovation
Figure adapted from James Clay Moltz, ‘The changing dynamics of twenty-first
century space power’,Strategic Studies Quarterly 13, no. 1 (2019).

According to the North American and Arctic Defence and Security Network (NAADSN), the global security environment is defined by increasing “complexity and unpredictability” and urges Canada to work closely with the United States and other allies and partners to modernize NORAD, continue to add value to NATO and the Five Eyes community, and bolster its ability to track and respond to climate change. Given Canada’s global leadership and competitive advantage in space, this should be a key focus in achieving these objectives.

As Canada looks towards NORAD modernization and building a 21st century armed forces, it is important to acknowledge that the United States, the European Union and other countries around the world including members of the Five Eyes community have recognized that the legacy approach of relying solely on dedicated defence systems to advance space-based capabilities cannot meet the accelerating threat vector alone.

Instead, these governments are working closely with the private sector from R&D through commercialization, leveraging significant commercial investments made in cutting-edge capabilities and are integrating these space-based assets into their defence systems.

A prime example is the interest the U.S. Department of Defence (DoD) has shown in Telesat Lightspeed, Telesat’s new and revolutionary Low Earth Orbit (LEO) global satellite communications network. Telesat Lightspeed is a highly advanced LEO broadband infrastructure that leverages state-of-the-art technologies to revolutionize Internet and 5G connectivity throughout Canada and everywhere in the world, including both poles.

Telesat has been actively engaged with the U.S. DoD on its Telesat Lightspeed constellation, securing contracts with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Space Development Agency (SDA). The DoD is expected to launch a Request for Proposal (RFP) to acquire commercial services from commercial LEO satcom providers to address their communications needs later this year. This RFP has an estimated value of up to US$875 million.

Telesat designed the Telesat Lightspeed network with the needs of its government and defence customers in mind; the network’s system architecture and cybersecurity measures are highly compelling for military SATCOM requirements. Telesat Lightspeed will be the most advanced LEO broadband satellite network in the world and, one that addresses many of the historical concerns government entities had about leveraging commercial satellite systems. Network security is a primary one of them.

Unlike other LEO systems, Telesat Lightspeed is designed to serve government and military customers.  Its features make it extremely hard to hack or jam and will utilize the most advanced global security and reliability standards available today. Telesat has adopted the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework and expects to meet the government standards for Transmission security (TRANSEC) and the Infrastructure Asset Pre-Assessment Program (IA-PRE). Telesat Lightspeed has sophisticated TRANSEC protection elements built-in, such as:

  • Low probability of positioning: The Telesat Lightspeed LEO architecture is designed so information about customer terminal location can remain protected from unauthorized persons.
  • Low probability of intercept: The architecture makes in transit interception orders of magnitude more difficult than for legacy GEO SATCOM solutions. Telesat employs isolated, small, rapidly hopping spot beams. These narrow beams, coupled with multi-satellite access, time-domain access, hopping beams, and the inherent motion of the LEO satellites, significantly increase the complexity of intercepting a wanted signal.
  • Jam resistance: Telesat Lightspeed is resilient against jamming attempts because an interferer needs to possess a tracking jamming antenna to follow Telesat Lightspeed LEO satellites, obtain perishable data on specific (narrow) beam usage, and use specific satellite orbital position data. Small beam sizes also complicate an adversary’s ability to interfere from within a specific beam.
  • CNSSP-12 compliance: Telesat Lightspeed uses NSA-reviewed, NSA-tested, and NSA-approved, CNSSP-12 compliant cryptologic implementations onboard its satellites and operational ground segment to cryptographically secure satellite commands and telemetry to the exacting levels required for critical national security missions.

Another advantage of Telesat Lightspeed is that its orbit is higher than the LEO mega-constellations currently being launched. Telesat Lightspeed orbits range from 1,000 to 1,300 kilometres, as opposed to other LEO orbits of approximately 500 to 600 kilometres. This allows Telesat Lightspeed to provide greater coverage and redundancy, since customers can always connect to more than one satellite. Additionally, Telesat’s Lightspeed satellites are designed for over 10 years of operation versus five years or less for competing LEO constellations. This network feature reduces the instances of launching and deorbiting spacecraft, further increasing the network’s reliability and long-term guaranteed service.

As such, Telesat Lightspeed provides the optimal enterprise-class, highly resilient, fibre-quality global mesh communications network that supports Canada’s mission-critical use cases for our women and men in Uniform.

The Government of Canada has been a tremendous partner and backer of Telesat Lightspeed given the integral role it will play in bridging the digital divide, creating the jobs of the future, and ensuring Canada’s global leadership in the new space economy. As the Department of National Defence looks to NORAD modernization, growing our NATO contribution, and ensuring Canada’s women and men in uniform have access to the most capable technology, Canada should leverage the substantial commercial investments undertaken by Telesat and other leading Canadian space innovators to bolster our national defence capabilities and preserve our sovereignty in space – while safeguarding and growing Canada’s highly innovative, world-class industrial competencies.

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