In this episode of the Viasat Podcast, host Alex Miller chats with Craig Miller, President of Government systems at Viasat. A veteran of over 25 years with the company, Miller took on the top job with the division in May of 2021. In this interview, he discusses his path at Viasat and gets into what’s ahead in the coming years as the defense landscape is shifting significantly.
Topics covered in this podcast include:
- The transformational changes coming to military operations and communications
- How SATCOM as a service enables defense forces to more quickly adapt new technology, stay up to date more easily, and realize more cost savings along the way
- Multi-domain operations and how they relate to the Department of Defense efforts to align communications within and between the branches of the military
- How Viasat is positioned to help with the National Defense Space Architecture effort being led by the Space Development Agency
- The crucial role of security amid growing threats and how Viasat’s well-established cybersecurity expertise gives it an edge
- The ways in which using multiple orbits and a hybrid approach could be the ideal solution for military SATCOM in the coming years
- How the upcoming ViaSat-3 global constellation will vastly improve the Viasat network’s capacity and coverage, all of which stands to greatly benefit our government customers
Alex Miller: Hello and welcome to the Viasat podcast. I’m Alex Miller with the editorial team, and today we’re happy to have a newcomer to the pod, Craig Miller, who leads the government systems team here at Viasat. Thanks a lot for being on the podcast today, Craig. It’s good to have you.
Craig Miller: Hey, Alex, thanks for having me. This is really exciting, and like you said, it’s the first time, but hopefully, this will be the first of many.
Alex Miller: For sure, because there’s so much going on in Government Systems, so I’m sure there’ll be a lot to talk about. So the government systems team produces more than $1 billion in revenue for the company today, with a wide range of battlespace networking, SATCOM, and cybersecurity support for the U.S. military and defense agencies, as well as to global allies. So, Craig, you started in the position as president of Government Systems in May of last year, but you’ve been at Viasat for over 25 years. I think you started as an intern, right?
Craig Miller: Yeah, I did. I’ve been around here for a bit. Actually, the first day at work for me at Viasat was in May of 1993, and I worked here as an intern when we were still upstairs from the dentist office and next to the hair salon over at Del Norte. We’ve come a long way since then with dozens of buildings here in Carlsbad, and I think more than 40 sites around the world. So it’s been an incredible journey here at Viasat.
Alex Miller: Right. Can you give us kind of an overview of your own trajectory at Viasat? So, you started as an intern, and kind of where’d you go and how’d you get to where you are today?
Craig Miller: Yeah, for sure. I’ve had a pretty varied career here too. I’ve done a lot of different jobs over the years. I started as a software engineer, which was actually quite a bit different. My background is in electrical engineering and communication systems theory, and the first few jobs I did here were networking and software engineering. I wrote one of the very early performance-enhancing proxies for a product called ADCIP, which is one of the advanced data controllers and I think we still sell some of those products here, nearly 30 odd years later. I did some work on some of the encryption products here, and so I’ve worked on the HAIPE encryptors here. I worked on the commercial side for a while on connection by Boeing. In the intervening years, I’ve done a variety of different jobs. I’ve moved on from software. I did system engineering, I’ve done a little bit of hardware engineering, I’ve worked in business development, I’ve done some program management, I ran a small business here I started the government space business so we still have a thriving space business here that I just stated about three or four years ago. I was also the CTO for the government systems business in my spare time while I was doing that, and then, last May, I took over as president of government systems. So it’s been an interesting journey, to be sure.
Alex Miller: Yeah, for sure. It sounds like never a dull moment. You’ve had a really cool career arc there.
Craig Miller: I’m always looking for something different. You could argue I have a short attention span, but I’m always looking for new challenges, and I’m always looking for new problems and there’s never been a shortage of those here at Viasat, which is really one of my favorite things about working here is there’s always been something new to do or to try.
Alex Miller: Well, let’s shift to today’s landscape for the world of defense and military communications that you’re so embedded in. Just to start off, what are some of the hot topics in defense that industry you think you’ll be focusing on in 2022 and beyond? Are things changing much?
Craig Miller: Yeah, it’s a period of transformational change. It probably looking back on this, we’ll look at this time as a generational change in military operations and military communications. We’re seeing a couple of different ways that this is changing, and it’s driven largely by the fact that we’re changing… the global geopolitical landscape has changed radically. For the last 30 or so years, the United States was truly the only superpower. We were sort of unrivaled in our capabilities, and mostly we were involved in asymmetric conflicts against people or groups that didn’t have anything close to our technology and didn’t have anything close to our resources in terms of manpower equipment or money. So, we spent the time designing systems that work in those environments and in the meantime, we’re having peer adversaries that have emerged both in Russia and in China. Both of those countries have exceptionally capable military capabilities, and especially in the case of China, they have an economy that rivals the economy of the United States so we’re not going to just win by outspending them 10-1. With that as a backdrop, you’re seeing a focus on a couple different ways to respond to that. One is what we’re seeing in terms of multi-domain operations or sometimes, they call it joint-all domain operations and that’s the ability to use air and sea and space and land and even cyber as a warfighting domain together. The reason it’s important to use them together is against a pure adversary. There’s no guarantee that you’re going to have dominance in all of the domains, as we have in the past, or that we have dominance in any given domain at any given location.
Craig Miller: So we have to have the ability to use air and sea together if space isn’t available or land and space together, if we don’t have air superiority. The ability to flexibly shift data and move data around between these domains and have interconnectivity between these domains is going to be key in the next phase of conflict if we ever have a conflict with a pure adversary. One of the other things we’re seeing, and this is tangentially related to not being able to outspend our adversaries in terms of military spending, is the use of as a service models for some of these capabilities and the heavy and extensive use of commercial capabilities for warfighting effects. We’ll start to see things like SATCOM as a service. You see increased interest from the DOD in 5G and 5G technologies and the use of those commercial technologies for warfighting effects. One of the other things that that comes along with this as you have more complicated networking and more networks and distributed networks and heterogeneous networks that include purpose-built military capabilities interacting with commercial SATCOM and 5G capabilities. Cybersecurity is going to have an increased challenge to secure those types of networks and so we’re going to see cybersecurity perhaps not only as a warfighting domain but perhaps the most important warfighting domain when we think about bringing all these domains together.
Alex Miller: So you touched on the Multi-domain operations, and I wanted to ask just to get a deeper dive into that. So there is that big challenge to get communications aligned over not just between the branches but within the branches, and they call it the JADC2 project. Can you talk about why that’s such a priority for the U.S. DOD as well as other U.S. allies?
Craig Miller: Yeah, the core of it again, the why is really the need for all different missions, capabilities, users to be able to interoperate in a flexible pattern because not any given capability might be available all the time and so we need to be able to interoperate in ways that we hadn’t predicted or in ways that we hadn’t done before because the adversary might have the ability to take our first choice away from us. We have to have the ability to flexibly communicate and move data around. That’s the sort of why of joint all domain command and control. This is a hard problem and one of the things that, historically, we’ve been really bad at this because we haven’t had to do it. Not only have different domains not communicated well with each other, we have a past of sometimes elements in the same domain don’t communicate well together and the common example that everybody talks about is the two different fifth generation fighters, the F-22, and the F-35. They’re actually built by the same company. They use tactical data links that aren’t interoperable so our are two front line highest technology fighter aircraft don’t interoperate together. Not only do we have to figure it out across all domains, we have to figure it out in the same domain too so, all of this has to happen at the same time because we’re not going to be able to fight effectively if we can’t interoperate and that means air to air, air to ground, ground to sea and space and cyber all working together as well.
Alex Miller: Right. The DOD sees this challenge very clearly, and so they really got a big effort out to do it. It seems like Viasat that’s kind of uniquely positioned to help with that. Can you talk about some of the ways that we are already and will in the future?
Craig Miller: Yeah, and really, Viasat was born to do JADC2 if you think about things we’re good at and the things we’ve been doing for decades, it is jazzy too, and in government systems first, and I’ll expand that to what we do commercially, there’s really three pillars of what we do very well in government systems, and that’s tactical data links and that’s basically edge connectivity between land, sea and air. We’re starting, Link 16 as the cornerstone of that business so we’ve been the world’s leading Link 16 provider for decades, right? In terms of the programmer records and the innovative products we bring, like the BATS-D, which is the handheld Link 16, which allows dismounted foot soldiers to communicate with airborne and sea assets. One of the things we’re doing in government space is we’re launching a satellite called XVI, which is a LEO satellite that provides Link 16 capability from space and so it turns Link 16, which has been throughout its career as a line of sight network, it’ll extend Link 16 into a beyond line of sight network. We’re taking our tactical data links that already connect land, sea and, air and adding an overhead space layer to do that. Another area that Viasat’s really exceptional at is cyber security and information assurance. We have a long history of creating type one encryption devices and a long history of moving data around securely based on the experience we’ve done.
Craig Miller: We’ve been doing that since the 90s as well. That was one of the early projects I worked on here. Viasat is a world leader in encryption and data security. When you combine that with the commercial satellite capabilities we have and the ability to create world-leading satellite capability, the intersection of those things of multi-domain tactical data links and broadband connectivity and information assurance and cybersecurity to glue it all together securely, nobody else is like that, and Viasat is different and differentiated in that way, and we’re really excited about JADC2 because when you think about what JADC2 is, it’s taking all these different networks, gluing them together securely, and making sure the data gets to the right place to the right person at the right time. That’s what Viasat does. That’s what we are, and that’s what we’ve been for decades. We’re very excited about this JADC2 initiative because when you think about historically, defense has been about platforms building ships and planes, and there’s an established set of big primes that do that, and we’re never going to displace them doing those things. But when it comes to networking and moving data around, nobody’s better at it than we are, and we’re really excited about that.
Alex Miller: So, JADC2 is kind of the overall effort and then each branch has its own effort. Is there one in particular that we think of as kind of leading the way? Or is it all sort of moving ahead together? And also, what about some of our allies?
Craig Miller: The interesting thing, and this is a hard problem, right? JADC2, and so the fact that there’s several different initiatives shows that it’s hard to figure out how to do this. JADC2 is a DOD level overarching vision and mission to do this, but the army has project convergence, and the Air Force has a ABMS, and the Navy has project overmatch. Each of these initiatives that’s going on in different areas and this is something that’s historically happened, is a lot of times the services do their own thing. In this case there’s some alignment and there’s some overlap, and there’s some things they’re doing different. But really, that’s OK. If you think about it in terms of a of a market almost where if we’re trying different things, the market’s going to decide which one works. It’s OK that there’s these different initiatives that aren’t perfectly aligned. I think the one we’ve worked the most with is probably ABMS, and we’re closest with the Air Force in that initiative. We do have a very large IDIQ contract to support task orders on that. But we’re involved with the Navy with Overmatch and we’re involved with the army and Project Convergence as well. We stick our toe in the water in a lot of these different initiatives, and we’re engaged at the DOD level as well trying to guide the vision of what JADC2 is because there’s a lot of ways to try to do this, and there’s a lot of ways to try to do it wrong.
Craig Miller: And there’s a few ways to try to do it right. And we’re trying to steer them to use some of the same solutions that have proven successful in commercial networking. Because if you think about what the Internet is, that’s the ultimate JADC2 experiment, where you connect an incredibly varied group of users that use different transport networks to interact with each other. But it’s all sort of seamless, and I don’t think about when I’m using my cell phone if it’s on Bluetooth or LTE or Wi-Fi, and I don’t really think about the connection my computer uses, I don’t really think about how my car is connected to the internet, but those things are all interconnected and it works seamlessly and there’s many decades of gateway technology and networking protocols that have worked together to create that sort of decentralized, super resilient, super seamless integration that’s meant to move big data around. If we learn those lessons and copy those successes, JADC2 can be very successful. If we try to build a monolithic solution, we probably are going to get ourselves in trouble and that’s one of the things that we’re trying to influence the decision makers to learn the lessons of the successes that have already been had.
Alex Miller: For that, do you see the private sector as just being a really important piece of that puzzle?
Craig Miller: More than an important piece of the puzzle. The private sector has proven how these problems can be solved and how these problems can be solved at scale with billions of users. If you think about what JADC2 needs to do, there may be millions small numbers of millions of users in terms of warfighters, but there will be billions of devices associated with the next conflict. These problems need to be solved at scale and this has been done commercially and those are the models that have to be used. So, not only will commercial solutions be a key player, it has to be the cornerstone and it has to start with commercial and then put the special sauce on it to make it a defense solution. That’s really what Viasat has done for our whole career, too, and that’s why we’re really well positioned for this, too.
Alex Miller: Right. Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. So I wanted to switch to space just a little bit. I want to ask you about the national defense space architecture, which is being led by the Space Development Agency or the SDA. Can you tell me a bit about more about this SDA initiative and why it’s so important and how Viasat is in a position to help there?
Craig Miller: Yeah, and this is really interesting. Historically, government space has been a small number of very exquisite platforms, very exquisite, very expensive platforms. When we talked about earlier how exquisite platforms probably aren’t going to win the next conflict, you need to have large numbers of things that can move data around effectively. The NDSA is probably the government’s nod to that, and it’s a proliferated LEO architecture and the interesting thing about the space development agency is that it was created outside any one of the services so it’s a DOD research and engineering organization right now. Historically, this was done by the Air Force and the portion of the Air Force that normally did this stuff became the Space Force. Normally this is the domain of the Space Force to build these kind of assets. But for whatever reason, the government decided that the Air Force wasn’t moving fast enough or in the right way, and so they created something outside the scope of that. So, SDA has created they’ve acquired two tranches. They work in an iterative pattern, and so they call their systems tranches. They’re through CDR on what they call Tranche 0.
Craig Miller: So they haven’t launched any of the NDSA yet, but later this year or next year, they should launch the first set of a couple of dozen satellites, which are their experimental Tranche 0 satellites. They recently have awarded their second set of satellites, Tranche 1 which is a little over one hundred satellites that provide capabilities for broadband communications, Link 16, and they’re also crosslinked together in a mesh network. The thing that you can point to success about what they’ve done is they’ve acquired those very quickly and at low cost compared to what other government programs have done. They’re not necessarily super low cost compared to what some of the mega constellations are launching their satellites at, but compared to what they spend on typical government platforms, these are very low costs, so they’ve gone very fast and they’ve gone at very low cost. If you look at it sort of as an economic experiment, it’s already been wildly successful, even though they haven’t flown a single satellite yet in the NASA.
Alex Miller: So does XVI fit into that scenario?
Craig Miller: Yeah, so XVI existed before SDA, and the NDSA and XVI will fly before any of the SDA satellites. It’ll function as sort of an advanced prototype and a lot of the data and learnings that we’ll get from XVI will translate into the NDSA architecture that SDA is doing. Viasat is going to build and fly XVI well. Viasat’s in a really good position for Link 16 and space based on this.
Alex Miller: And can you give us an idea of where the XVI project is today?
Craig Miller: At this point, we’re pretty close to having the system buttoned up. We’ve gone through spacecraft and payload integration, and we’re waiting basically on the launch vehicle now. We expect it to launch later this year and it’s been delayed a couple of times, but one of the things that’s hard about space, we’ll probably touch on this on another platform later in this interview is that the launch manifests are very congested right now, and it’s hard to find a ride into space. What happens is you have a couple of week delay in developing the system or integrating and testing the system, and that leads to a many month delay because you miss your launch window and you can’t get another launch for six months. That’s basically where we are now with XVI. We’ve got the satellite and the systems pretty close to complete, and we’re just waiting on the ride basically.
Alex Miller: Good. Well, look forward to seeing that one. Definitely. It’s a really interesting story. That whole…
Craig Miller: Yeah, we’re really exciting. This also sort of reflects Viasat’s multi-orbit strategy and multi-orbit interest and Viasat, the commercial satellites we make are the biggest, most powerful satellites ever built in GEO or anywhere else, but XVI is a 12U satellite, it’s not quite a CubeSat, but it’s basically the size of a bar refrigerator. The thing weighs about 50 pounds, so it’s really interesting that a company like Viasat can make these small, highly capable satellites and then the these gargantuan double decker bus sized satellites for broadband comms and really everything in between reflects how interesting and diverse Viasat is.
Alex Miller: Yeah, it’s a good point. One of my questions was to talk a little bit about that. Viasat is certainly known for more of those really big, ultra-high capacity Ka-band satellites that are that are in that high geostationary orbit or GEOs, but there is a lot of activity on the lower orbit side of things, the LEOs and some of that does fall into the defense realm, you know, and we were just talking about XVI and also with the space development agency. So, you’ve got the XVI project going on, but that’s kind of a first step. What’s your take on how Viasat is going to fit into that whole thing moving forward?
Craig Miller: Yeah. There’s more to come and there’s actually, you know, XVI isn’t our first small satellite. Viasat has actually launched and has operationalized another mission. We don’t talk a lot about it, but there is another smallsat we’ve done, and I can’t go into any of the specifics of it, but XVI is not our first one, and so we already have a heritage there. XVI will continue that and there will be follow on missions to XVI. We’re already working with the same customer that we are partnered with XVI on to work on basically the next thing after that and there’s other missions coming down the pipe too. So we’ll see a proliferation, if you will, of smallsat missions that Viasat is going to be involved in in the defense space. One of the other things that we’re going to see in the LEO domain, and this is sort of backstopped by the ViaSat-3, system. One of the things that’s really interesting about ViaSat-3, and I know I’m jumping ahead is it’s able to provide relay services to LEO satellites. If you think about the commercial air use case where you’re on an airplane and your signal goes up to the GEO satellite and then back down to the ground, we can do the same thing with LEO satellites.
Craig Miller: If you think about an Earth observation satellite that’s taking pictures of Earth or doing radar or atmospheric analysis, or any of the number of reasons that there’s satellites in LEO orbit looking at Earth to do things, we can stream that data right off the satellite through ViaSat-3 and down to the ground basically in real time, which is a huge departure because typically you have to wait for the LEO satellite to fly over our ground station somewhere, and that can be as much as a half hour and those get congested, and sometimes it can take 90 minutes or several hours to get data off of LEO satellite. One of the things we’re going to be able to provide is basically real time streaming off LEO satellites, and I think that’s a really exciting capability and shows Viasat ability to leverage multiple orbits to create capabilities that are different than anyone else.
Alex Miller: Yeah, it’s fascinating, the Multi-Orbit Strategy, because, there’s a lot of talk about like LEO is the best or GEO and it’s like, our position is they’re all good. They all work together and do a lot of amazing stuff as an integrated system. So it’s really cool.
Craig Miller: That’s a really important point. As engineers, we think about trades all the time and in space, that’s true, too. There is no best orbit, there is no best frequency. So we do a lot of work at Ka-band and we do a lot of work at Ku. We like that combination for broadband communications, and it’s able to serve a diverse array of users from millions of residential users up into the aircraft and everything in between. That’s not the best solution for every single mission. For some missions, different bands are better. For example, the Navy uses X-band maritime a lot because it penetrates through water really well. There’s different reasons why you would use different frequencies. There’s different reasons why you would use different orbits. Obviously, people talk a lot about latency. If you’re very concerned about 10 millisecond latency versus a couple of hundred millisecond latency, there’s reasons to use LEO or MEO is often an excellent compromise in terms of coverage and latency. When you think about networks, you have to understand what your data really has to do and do users really care about latency or do five percent of your users care about latency? Can you create a system where the bulk of the data goes over the GEO, where you have resilience and security and economic advantages, and maybe five percent of the data goes over a LEO or a MEO system? Those are the types of things we’re thinking about. How do you mix these different systems to create a seamless network experience and really get the best of both worlds? And if you tie that all the way back, that’s kind of what JADC2 is, and that’s what we’ve been doing for a long time, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.
Alex Miller: All right. Well, that’s a great transition to my next question, which is to talk about that expanded network and it’s connecting all these sensors and platforms across battle spaces, there’s an aircraft in the air, there’s a guy on the ground, so it raises a lot of security concerns. How do you balance that security with that bigger defense network capability?
Craig Miller: Yeah, and it’s a hard problem. It’s called Metcalf’s Law in the networking world, which says basically the utility of a network is proportional to the square of its users. The argument here is that connecting all of these different users together makes the network more useful and therefore makes the users more useful. We talked earlier in the interview about why we have to do this because we can’t guarantee that some of the communications paths we’ve relied on in the past will ever be there. We have to create these networks that are more useful. They’re sort of a dark corollary to that as well in that when you connect networks together and when you connect more users together, I don’t know if the vulnerabilities are proportional to the square of the users or it’s an even bigger number, but basically, you exponentially increase your vulnerabilities as you connect more networks and more users together. So, that has to be considered from the ground up as you connect these networks. The truth is, some networks are just more secure than others. When you connect one network to another network that’s not nearly as secure, you’re exposing that more secure network to additional attack vectors and that has to be understood. It has to be analyzed, it has to be tested and you have to create systems that account for that.
Craig Miller: A lot of the newer direction in cybersecurity, and that’s really not that new. We’ve been doing this for years and others have been doing this for years is you sort of have to forget about boundary defense and the old way of thinking about this, and sometimes the government still thinks about it this way is that I’m going to airdrop my network or I’m going to create a secure boundary around my network and then I’m going to say that thing’s bulletproof, and then inside that boundary, we’re secure. That doesn’t work. That will fail every single time. Even in an air gapped network, you’re going to have insider threats. We’ve seen this happen over and over again, where somebody brings a hard drive in or a CD rom or a flash drive and the next thing you know your network is compromised. Sometimes it’s on purpose. Sometimes they just want to listen to music. That model of boundary based security, it doesn’t work anyway and then when you connect different networks, you’re obviously breaking the boundary. You have to take an approach where you basically assume that everything in the network is compromised. This is generally called in the industry a zero trust approach. Sometimes it’s called variable trust, but the idea is that nothing in the network is trusted and you have to look at behavioral analytics and basically a mountain of data to say, Is this thing behaving like it should be or is it doing something that looks like malware? Or is it doing something that looks like an intrusion? And when you make the assumption that everything could potentially be compromised and you’re constantly looking at how it behaves, you get a lot better at identifying threats and intrusions, and you also get a lot better at preventing things from moving laterally in the network.
Craig Miller: This is something that we’ve done on our commercial network. This is something that we do in our cybersecurity operations center every single day, and this is one of Viasat’s core capabilities when I talk about Viasat being good at cyber, this is exactly the type of thing we’re really good at. We’re really good at taking basically the existing cost solutions and intrusion detection solutions and our own behavioral analytics and all the tools that everyone else uses. And then putting our special sauce on top of them. We have a staff of analysts that do this and we have a staff of data scientists that do this, and we’re constantly improving our automation that does this behavioral analytics and this this is one of the things that makes Viasat really special and this is one of the things that’s going to be really important because of behavioral analytics based variable trust approach is how you secure these infinitely complicated mix networks, and that’s the only way you have a hope of securing them.
Alex Miller: Yeah, it is a huge challenge, but it really is interesting the way Viasat, unlike a lot of companies in this space, is that we do have this big commercial side and we have lots of residential and business subscribers on our network and some of what happens in that space informs security on the other side and vice versa, right?
Craig Miller: Yeah, it does and actually, one of the things that’s to our benefit about being a commercial ISP is that we actually see enough data with our million or so subscribers that we have a pretty complete sample space of the malware that’s out there. Obviously, there’s ISPs like Verizon and Comcast and others that have tens of millions or hundreds of millions of users, and they’re way bigger than us, but we actually have just enough that we have the sample space so we basically see everything. Our tools get exposed to everything, and we’re big enough that we have that whole sample space and we’re able to leverage those attacks. A lot of times what you see is you see the genesis of advanced persistent threats and the sort of things that state sponsored actors do. Sometimes their tools aren’t deployed, but sometimes you see indications of those type of effects. The things we learn over a commercial network, they directly apply and a lot of times we’ve been able to have our analytics learn something from something that’s on the commercial network that has effectively protected the defense network. And likewise, we work with the government, we work with NSA and we work with DHS and they provide us some of their signatures that are government use signatures that are oftentimes a little bit ahead of the commercially available signatures for detection of effects. Those are used to protect our commercial network as well.
Alex Miller: Right, and I think we’re one of only a handful of companies that have that kind of advanced warning, is that correct?
Craig Miller: Yeah, that’s right. There’s only a few companies that are and this is a DHS program called enhanced cybersecurity, and we have a product that’s basically a modified version of one of our encryption devices. If you think about an encryptor does, it’s a device that on one side of it, it connects to a classified network, which is usually called a red network, and on the other side, it connects to an unclassified network, which is a black network, and it holds keys for encryption. Those keys are actually classified, but it’s a device that is allowed to be on a classified network and an unclassified network with classified information. What the device is able to do the modified crypto can take classified signatures, so it can take classified malware or classify cyber effect signatures and hold them on an unclassified network just the same way you would hold keys in an encryptor and it’s able to look at the unclassified data that’s moving across the network and apply the classified signature detection to it, and there’s only a few companies that can do that. This is a capability that we provide. We can provide for ourselves. This is also a capability that we can provide to other networks as part of the enhanced cybersecurity program. DHS has authorized us to provide this to certain critical infrastructure providers too, so like power grids and other critical manufacturing providers. This is a really exciting capability.
Alex Miller: Yeah, it is. And there’s so much going on out there. Even the person who’s completely disconnected from all this can read about it all the time in the news that this stuff is going on, so it’s a great capability for Viasat to be on top of. Yeah. Hey, switching gears last fall, we announced that we’re working with the U.S. DOD on 5G research. So what’s that all about?
Craig Miller: Yeah. This is an area where we’ve won three different contracts over the last year, but this is early research and this is early basically experimentation with how can we use 5G for command and control JADC2 applications? And how can we use tactical network deployments at the edge? One of the things that we’re doing is we’re looking at, can we create like a quick, deployable, really smart 5G base stations so that elements could deploy it right at the edge? And then you have basically instant 5G connectivity and so you can use your existing 5G devices on the battlefield. This is an exciting area of research, and I’ll digress here for a second and talk about what 5G is. 5G is a really all-encompassing standard. Most of us probably think about the 5G waveform, and that is one thing that 5G is it’s a very specific set of communications protocols that the handsets use to communicate with the base station. But 5G also has a networking standard associated with it that encompasses a great deal more and 5G networks are capable of supporting transport layers that don’t use a 5G waveform. There’s a lot of really interesting features built into 5G, including things that are typically associated with software defined networking, things like network slicing and flow based routing and dynamic routing.
Craig Miller: Those are all included in 5G as well. When you think about the 5G networking standard, that gets a lot back to what we were talking about with JADC2 is that as a way to connect a variety of different kinds of networks over different media and at different security levels and bringing them all together. This is where we’re doing a little bit of research to is can we do sort of flow based routing and intelligent routing over Link 16 and trellis where networks? At the same time, or LEO and GEO networks at the same time and putting a 5G wrapper around those kind of capabilities makes for instant compatibility with a lot of devices. I was talking earlier about, we have to learn the lessons of the internet about creating gateway capabilities and bridging different transport media together seamlessly so that your device doesn’t even really know or you don’t really even know. 5G is a potential way. There’s probably other ways, but 5G is a widely adopted computer standard that has a lot of capabilities that are applicable to the JADC2 mission. This is a really exciting area of research and development that we’re involved in, and we’re really happy to be working with the DOD in this area.
Alex Miller: So just to understand, like when you’re talking about devices, does this mean like you could someone could use their cell phone instead of having a purpose built, whatever kind of radio?
Craig Miller: That is absolutely one potential use case where you could just. So one of the things is this happens all the time anyway, so even in Afghanistan and Iraq, soldiers were using their cell phones because their tactical radios didn’t always work. They have these things and they use them, so why not create systems that let you use them in the secure, appropriate way? One of the use cases is you could use the off the shelf cell phone to use it for comms in an emergency and other use cases, there’s ubiquitous, very cheap 5G chipsets, and you could make ruggedized military radios with some modifications to the 5G waveform that make the waveform more secure and then you could have a 5G handset that isn’t your cell phone, but also doesn’t cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for a military radio. That’s the promise of this is being able to tweak it to make it just a little bit better than what it does now and put the hooks for secure modes or other operational modes and still having these widely proliferated capabilities and maybe very low cost military radios that everyone could have or maybe using their cell phone if they have to.
Alex Miller: Some taxpayer savings there, too.
Craig Miller: Yeah, absolutely, well. When we talk about having to not being able to outspend our adversaries anymore, these are the type of things we have to do. We have to leverage commercial innovation that’s already being done and if there’s ubiquitous capabilities, how can we use that for a war fighter effects?
Alex Miller: Some of our conversation has touched on what’s known as SATCOM as a service, which is a growing part of the commercial space industry. Do you want to talk a little bit more about what the future is for that with the military and the opportunities that might be there?
Craig Miller: Yeah. As a scene setter for that, historically, a big part of what the military has done is they’ve created their own purpose built constellations. Usually what that means is they build a satellite and they have some contract to build a satellite and then they have some other contractor build a ground station and they have some other contractor build a terminal and maybe somebody else does the networking. So, they sort of create these ecosystems this way. That’s actually how the DOD has bought commercial SATCOM over the past 20 30 years to is they’ll lease a transponder from somebody, somebody else builds a terminal, somebody else builds the ground station, and the networking is somebody else sometimes, too. I think everyone listening to this podcast has probably heard Mark (Dankberg) or others talk about how that’s a terrible way to build a SATCOM network. You have to build it as an integrated whole or you sacrifice efficiencies all over the place and there’s trades you can’t make and you introduce incompatibilities across the interfaces. SATCOM as a service is the sort of answer to the integrated satellite networks that we provide and that gives you all the benefits of when you buy a network as a service, you get all the advantages in terms of economics, performance, security, flexibility that an integrated network brings you. That’s the value proposition of SATCOM as a service and the people that buy SATCOM in the government, they are starting to realize this, that they get more bang for their buck.
Craig Miller: It works better, it’s safer, it’s more secure, it’s more reliable. They understand this. They are starting to buy SATCOM as a service like anything. This involves a cultural change, and it’s hard. Cultural change is always harder than technological change so they’re used to they’re so used to buying the pieces and integrating that buying as a service is a different business model that’s slowly gaining steam, but nonetheless it is gaining steam and we’ll continue to. As a service we will be the future of SATCOM for the military, just like cloud as a service will be and IT as a service will be. The military outsources IT, the military, for large part, outsources cloud 20 years from now. The military will look back and say the military outsources almost all commercial SATCOM, and that will be the model. The other thing you’ll see as that business model changes, you’ll see more flexibility. They’ll be able to change to consumption based models, and they’ll be able to buy by the gigabyte used instead of just reserving transponders and paying for them, whether they use them or not. That’s an exciting cost savings as well.
Alex Miller: Yeah, and it’s a great comparison to you know, you were talking about 5G earlier, it’s like the military didn’t go out and create cell networks on its own or build cell phones and things like that. It’s kind of an interesting analogy to SATCOM as a service kind of moving in that direction.
Craig Miller: One of the reasons why the military had its own networks is for a long time, the military was the leader in space. There wasn’t a ton of commercial space 30 years ago, but now there is and generally, the commercial sector is quite a bit larger than the defense sector in the United States so there’s more money, there’s more research, there’s more innovation. Anything commercial does, they’re usually going to be at the cutting edge of the technology curve, and it’s important for the for the D.O.D. to recognize what commercial does and use that and what commercial doesn’t. And then build that.
Alex Miller: Yeah, makes a lot of sense. So I think a great place to end here is to talk about ViaSat-3, which you touched on earlier. It’s our upcoming global satellite constellation, and it’s going to have an enormous boost in both capacity and coverage. So at the top level, what are a few of the things we’ll be able to bring to government and military customers with ViaSat-3,?
Craig Miller: Yeah. Viasat-3, super exciting. Obviously I’ve spent a lot of my the last five years of my career working with or near ViaSat-3, and so I’m very excited about this. At its core, ViaSat-3, is the culmination of what we’ve been doing at Viasat here for the last 15 years. Since we started designing ViaSat-1, which was a phenomenally successful satellite, right, and was the highest capacity satellite on orbit from its time and launch in 2011 to almost 2017. We learned a bunch of lessons and put them into ViaSat-2, which is still the highest capacity satellite on orbit, and then we learned a bunch more lessons from that, and those go into Viasat-3, which will be the highest capacity satellites in orbit by far. Each ViaSat-3, satellite has way over a terabyte per second of capacity. When we think about the constellation of three Viasat-3s that we’re going to be bringing online basically in the next year and change, this is an order of magnitude increase in capacity available to Viasat. With the satellites we have right now with ViaSat-1, ViaSat-2 Anik F2, WildBlue-1, KA-SAT, the three ViaSat-3s are going to be 10 times more capacity than all of those put together. Just having 10 times more capacity, basically, the ramifications for the commercial side of the business are obvious, we can serve 10 times more users, or we can give our users 10 times more capacity or anywhere in between that.
Craig Miller: So, that gives us all kinds of leverage to grow the business or to provide better services. That’s super exciting. All of that applies to the military and defense side as well. It will give us global capability, which we don’t have right now, so we’ll be able to operate pretty much anywhere on Earth. That’s table stakes for a lot of the government missions, so that opens the door to a wide variety of missions that we’re not able to effectively serve right now because we’ll be everywhere. But then, the amount of pure capacity we have is going to let us offer services that others can’t. We’re going to be able to outperform our competitors in a couple of different dimensions just because of the capacity. One of the other things that’s really special about ViaSat-3, this is something we could talk about all day for another podcast and I know others have, but without going deep into the engineering of it, when you design for capacity, you make a bunch of design decisions that also wind up being exactly the same design decisions that you would make when you design for resilience and resistance to interference. For a variety of reasons, it turns out that maximizing capacity is maximizing anti-jam, and it’s not a side effect, it’s actually designed that way from the ground up. Because ViaSat-3, is the highest capacity satellite, by far, in existence, it’ll also be the best performing anti-jam satellite in existence.
Craig Miller: ViaSat-3, will be incredibly difficult to disrupt. Jamming is a highly successful and it’s a highly commonly used effect in war time. We’ve seen it used in some of the regional conflicts in the last few years, and we’ve seen it used very successfully against existing SATCOM systems. Viasat-3, is going to be very difficult to do that, too. So you’re going to have a system that has a ton of capacity that works when our adversaries are trying to make it stop working. That’s really important. The ability to keep working even when the enemy is putting interference at it is what sets ViaSat-3, apart from basically all other systems and they’re systems that have specific antigen features, but ViaSat-3, is going to outperform them, and it’s even going to outperform some purpose built military satellites in that regard. That’s a really exciting capability. We’re really excited about being able to bring all this capacity and all this resilience associated with it. The other thing is the flexibility about ViaSat-3. This is something we’ve learned over a decade of providing satellite networks is capacity demand isn’t static. We need to be able to move data around, we need to be able to peanut butter spread it, but sometimes we need to be able to put it all in one place and there’s lots of examples.
Craig Miller: The Super Bowl last weekend, there’s lots of users in one place and you want to put a lot of capacity in one place. Hub airports are another example, right? For the commercial in-flight connectivity, there’s many hundreds of planes around Atlanta’s airport or around the New York area. You want to have this incredible capacity density to be able to serve them all at the same time. This is something that ViaSat-3, is really, really good at and by the way, that’s something that LEOs are really bad at. LEOs are peanut butter spreaders. They can’t concentrate their capacity in one region because the orbital dynamics. But ViaSat-3, can do this. This is important in the defense case, too, because you have theater hot spots. If you think about some of the past conflicts in Afghanistan, where we’ve needed a ton of capacity around Tora Bora, where we’re chasing the Taliban, or if you think about the geopolitical things that are in the news today, if there are some eastern European country that turns into a hotspot, sure would be nice to put terabits of capacity or something close to a terabits of capacity right into a small region over Europe, now ViaSat-3 can’t put all of its capacity in one place, but it can put a good chunk of its capacity in a small place. Being able to do that is really important for surge capacity and ability to be flexible.
Alex Miller: Right, and then the third or fourth leg of the stool is that whole coverage thing. So, when you think about the connectivity that we provide just to senior leader aircraft for the U.S., it’s kind of patched together with different networks right now, and ViaSat-3, was just unable to be all on the same one.
Craig Miller: It will allow them to use a single network, and so we’ll have a single network that has connectivity everywhere and performance everywhere. But, our intent is that we will continue to offer that patchwork of networks and so we won’t have to offer the patchwork network because we don’t have coverage, but we’ll choose to offer a patchwork of networks because it provides resilience and it provides optionality. That’s really important. It’s sort of a mini case of JADC2 right, instead of having just one asset. So for example, if somebody found a way to interfere with ViaSat-3, or a cyber-attack against ViaSat-3, and so we’re really good at defending against all of those things, but nothing’s ever perfect. Having the ability to quickly just roam on to another network and provide a near seamless experience is the ultimate in resilience, and we’re going to continue to offer that for our senior leader and our defense users at large. One of the other things is hybridizing networks gets you the value of GEO and the value of other orbits at some time. So again, if you consider a hybridized network where maybe you have flow based routing, where certain data that is very latency-sensitive moves over a LEO or MEO network and the bulk of the other data moves over the GEO network, you get the economics and the capacity density of GEO and the latency of the other orbits, all at the same time and it’s the best of both worlds. That’s one of the things that we’re really good at is bringing those networks together and understanding the value of different networks and how to move data around them appropriately.
Alex Miller: Wow. So yeah, there’s a whole lot there and a whole lot more to come. So Craig Miller, thanks so much for taking the time to walk us through the government systems side of Viasat, which is a really, you know, just growing and fascinating part of our business. It really seems like you’re going to stick around for another twenty five years to see all this stuff come to fruition.
Craig Miller: Thanks for having me. This has been really fun. Obviously, I’m very passionate about this. I’m really excited about the technology and I’m really excited about the markets and the way we can bring technology to help our warfighters and to help our country and that’s why I get out of bed every day, and that’s why I’m excited about coming to work every day. I’m not going anywhere, and so I’m going to keep doing this until they kick me out of here.
Alex Miller: All right. Well, Craig Miller, thanks so much, and we’ll catch up with you again when later on in the year and see what else is going.
Craig Miller: Absolutely, Alex. Thanks again for having me. Look forward to talking to you again.