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Coast Guard exploring satellites, other new tech to improve fleet connectivity

In a law enforcement or military setting, having the right data in the hands of the operator can mean the difference between life and death. That’s why the Coast Guard is prioritizing data readiness as it begins updating its network infrastructure. Even as it tries to blend traditional network infrastructure like fiberoptics with newer technologies like 5G, Deputy Chief Information Officer Brian Campo said the real challenge is getting connectivity to the cutter fleet.

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In a law enforcement or military setting, having the right data in the hands of the operator can mean the difference between life and death. That’s why the Coast Guard is prioritizing data readiness as it begins updating its network infrastructure. Even as it tries to blend traditional network infrastructure like fiberoptics with newer technologies like 5G, Deputy Chief Information Officer Brian Campo said the real challenge is getting connectivity to the cutter fleet.

“In the last 18 months, what we’ve done is we’ve doubled cutter connectivity twice, and I would still say that we’re very limited in what we’ve got access to on our cutters,” Campo said on Federal Monthly Insights – Infrastructure Evolution. “When a ship is out on deployment with the Navy, or it’s out doing fishing patrols or out doing immigration operations, we need to be able to get them the data so that they can make informed decisions so that they can engage in the missions that they need to do. And the connectivity options that we have are still pretty limited. So we’re continuing to look for other solutions, we’re continuing to engage with industry to understand what they’re working on.”

Campo said the Coast Guard is beginning to reach the limitations of what traditional long-range transmissions can do. That makes finding new solutions especially important, because he said the Coast Guard is looking to double connectivity on its cutter fleet again in the near future.

One such solution Campo said he’s looking at closely is low-earth orbit satellites like Starlink.

“Satellite communication scalability, I think it has the potential to outpace some of the more traditional terrestrial based transmission and even some of the existing satellite capabilities,” he told the Federal Drive with Tom Temin. “If you look at what some of the new satellite providers are doing, they’re looking at hundreds of megabytes of capability. Now, how that scales and how many instances you can have in a given area, I think is going to be something that we’re looking for industry to give us a little bit more clarity on.”

The Coast Guard also has unique requirements for connectivity. In addition to places like the middle of the Pacific Ocean or near the Horn of Africa, where the Navy also has to deal with extremely limited connectivity, the Coast Guard also has polar security cutters operating in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Campo said he thinks industry is up to meeting this challenge, if the Coast Guard can figure out how to put the right acquisitions in place to meet them at the table and leverage the newer technologies coming to the market.

But that’s not where the challenge ends. Campo said most of the Coast Guard’s fleet wasn’t designed with these newer technologies in mind, so integrating them onto the ships themselves can be an exercise in engineering complexity. And that’s before security even comes into play.

The Coast Guard, like other military services, has plenty of experience dealing with the challenges of signal intercepts and, to a lesser extent, cyber adversaries. But with these newer technologies, supply chain is increasingly a concern.

“Any CIO right now needs to be considering their supply chain risks, especially for new equipment being integrated into a platform like a cutter. The things that keep me up at night, supply chain risk is at the top of that,” Campo said. “Especially when we consider new vendors that may not have developed their solutions for a military type of a use case. I want to make sure that I understand what went into their supply chain decisions, what sorts of products are they integrating into not just the equipment we have on the boat, but the entire line of equipment all the way getting back to our domestic operational centers.”

 

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