Viasat UK’s Steve Beeching: We need to be moving toward a new industrial defence base

Remarks delivered during Defence Space 2020 conference


Viasat UK Managing Director Steve Beeching delivered this speech Nov. 18 during Defence Space 2000, a virtual conference for space professionals. The event was hosted by the UK Ministry of Defence and The Air & Space Power Association. This year’s theme was “Military Space: Mobilise, Modernise, Transform.”

We are in an era of unrestricted and highly competitive warfare. Our United Kingdom defence and security community faces relentless and demanding challenges, and is under growing pressure to act and move faster than our evolving adversaries.

In combating this rapidly expanding threat environment, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has a vision and desire to reach a future resilient, assured, integrated battlespace. This means delivering more value and capability from platforms and service personnel across all the domains. It requires both effective and efficient information networks, and speed in handling decisions and intelligence down to the tactical edge.

MoD and government mission directives must ensure that the UK is the leader in what is emerging as a new space and digitisation race.

The defence mission revolves around delivering national security, and protecting our values and prosperity in combating a diverse adversarial competitive threat using this unrestricted warfare. Success must focus on the problems to be solved. It also requires understanding that multi-domain integration control by MoD can be further segregated and integrated with private sector capabilities.

The government mission calls for delivering a growing industrial base that places the UK as one of the leaders in this race. If done correctly, it will drive the prosperity agenda and the sovereignty agenda levelling up, support delivering the digital economy (including IoT, 5G autonomous, smart cities, etc.) and grow a country rich in talent with highly exportable solutions.

This means we need MoD and government to become a demanding customer and coherent flexible buyer. We need a paradigm shift that starts with the mission, which needs to achieve defence objectives, rather than the technology trap. It must focus on bite-sized investments that delivers sustainable solutions and a prosperous industrial base.

Modern space power means assured space capabilities, resilient networks, freedom of sovereign action, integration with allies, maximising the benefit of the private sector, developing talent to be the best competitor against threats, a deep understanding of the total space networks – much of which is in the ground – data management, applications, sharing of spectrum and adaptability.

Integration and usage to deliver force multipliers comes from harmonizing defence, security and government needs, matching those of allied integration and maximising shared investment, ensuring the leverage of commercial and industrial roadmaps.

Progress starts with trust, which is driven by open dialogue about each other’s vulnerabilities. These are then solved through collegiate team engagement, not contract models or industrial abuse. It underpins the new industrial defence base.

Investments considerations

Thought leadership in investment circles around delivery of outcomes in space are needed for UK prosperity and sovereignty.

This means we must invest in the sector directly and increase national programs, whether this comes from re-directing existing funding, finding new channels or creating cross-pollinated demands across defence and commercial. This initial spending delivers confidence from a change in approach which will accelerate the space sector.

We need to up our game with international and rest-of-world investments. Whether inward or outward, we need to become attractive to foreign investment and use offset and prosperity as elements to drive future continued UK sustainability and legacy.

That requires STEM investment. Demographics in the space sector must support graduate schemes and university placements if the industry is to prosper in the future. It needs to encourage a diversity in the workforce who thrive on developing their full potential across the entire space eco-system.

We must advertise the exceptionally broad and multi-faceted space environment to excite the talent of the requirements needed, and look to highlight and promote rare-skills items such as space operations. But most importantly, we must allow this new, young talent, growing in the digital era, to teach us the art of possible.

Technologies direction

Our customers don’t need to gain a seismic increase in depth of knowledge in space. I appreciate this may shatter an illusion, but it’s not vital. What is vital, though. is for the eco-system delivering these new space networks to have the deeper explanations and intimate knowledge of operations needed to provide the technology investments and roadmaps for delivering integrated, assured and resilient solutions.

The investments must not only empower future operations but be sustainable.

When we talk of the space revolution, often we forget the ground infrastructure that enables continued space evolution pre – and most importantly – post launch.

Interestingly many of the current visions were possible years ago, so we need to recalibrate expectations and outcomes to demand immediate improvements and drive investment in support of defence needs. Notions of restrictions to traffic capacity, beams, attenuators, jamming and control should be long defunct, along with many other perceptions that need to be corrected.

For instance, today you can now have virtual private networks in space – segregating military and commercial where needed. These VPNs can flex and move data demands seamlessly and in real time around the globe. This network of networks has existed and operated since as early as 2002. It’s now becoming focused on true hybrid adaptive networking with automation for seamless switching, integration across bearers and x-links.

LEO/MEO/GEO as well as broadband, narrowband, Link 16 etc. all offer opportunities based on latency, assurance, resiliency, cost, coverage and risk. The secret is to maximise the benefits from each appropriately to deliver the defence mission outcome.

Commander dashboards offering common operating pictures with artificial intelligence and machine learning give views of all end-user devices and allow reactive and pro-active battlespace actions.

Capacity and control is exponentially expanding with 1 Tbps HCS satellites and technologies such as adaptive forming, offering real-time flexible assured capacity across the world.

These networks are also beginning to offer new tangential capabilities such as low cost SATCOM hand-held devices.

There are also multiple examples of private and military integration opportunities to delivery advantage, including PNT (positing, navigation and timing), real-time earth and space traffic control.

The space industrial base

I suggest that we are moving into the need for a new industrial defence base. This will be formed from an ecosystem of suppliers and partners with a trust-based approach. The sharing of vulnerabilities and an outcome focus will provide force solution multipliers. It will seek the best of defence drivers and that being demanded and delivered into the rapidly advancing commercial markets. It will embrace a new paradigm of experimentation and delivery based on proof and integrated development needs from mission/operational understanding.

The process offers advantages in that MoD gains an understanding of what technology is available today, instead of estimating what they believe will be available in the future. MoD teams, commanders and users get hands-on experience with the potential solutions, and in doing so, will find new uses and advantages that otherwise would not have been known to them – or industry – until well after deployment. Such advantages would then spin back into the next series of innovation demands that shape private-sector investment, helping to develop next-generation solutions into space and the battlespace at a great pace and more economically.

The procurement process must adapt to support this change in behaviour and adversarial threat by being focused on required capability outcomes, sort on early selection of ideas and behaviours, proving and testing solutions built on this new trust to close vulnerabilities, understanding through life costs and sustainability and the scoring solutions against mission capability outcomes. Price and technology become irrelevant to our troops if such required mission’s outcomes cannot be achieved.

In conclusion, the space industrial footprint is a massively broad opportunity that pollinates across the whole society – encompassing software, applications, terminals, ground infrastructure, launch, satellites and everything between to manage and control. It integrates through and together with 5G, IoT, cyber, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Space is a critical element of the free spectrum and embedded in all domains and across all users. Space offers multi-domain integration today with the ability to work smarter, faster and more securely across the defence, security and allied footprint.

Ultimately, a demanding MoD customer and solution-focused industry is the only way to win the space and digitsation race against this adversarial threat in an era of unrestricted warfare.