Rick Lober, General Manager and Vice President of Defense and Intelligence Systems at Hughes, spoke with WashingtonExec about the benefits of satellite technology in everyday life as well in business. Lober specifically talked about the impact of satellite communications (SATCOM) and communications-on-the-move (COTM) in the defense industry. He cited the slaying of a top Al-Qaeda member as one example. Of course, the efficiency and rapid innovation of satellite technology were also discussed.
Hughes Network Systems, LLC is a leading global provider of satellite broadband to the commercial and government sectors.
WashingtonExec: Please tell us a little bit about your background.
Rick Lober: I joined Hughes as the General Manager and Vice President of the Defense and Intelligence Systems Division in 2008. Over the past three years, I’ve had the opportunity to see the Division grow and expand. Prior to joining Hughes, I worked in communications and intelligence engineering and leadership roles in both military and commercial markets at companies such as Cubic Communications, Inc. and the Watkins-Johnson Company.
WashingtonExec: I read your article in MilSat Magazine, how do you define SATCOM technology and why is it important?
Rick Lober: Satellite communications, or SATCOM, are used in our lives daily. Satellite is used to connect people and business, view television channels, and now even allows us to check our email and surf the Web while flying to our destinations. For the military, SATCOM allows deployed troops to “see” and communicate beyond-the-horizon, ensuring they can safely enter a potentially hazardous area or stay in contact with their command; it powers Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) that are vital to our homeland defense; and it also allows warfighters to stay connected to family and friends back home with voice, video and data capabilities. The battlefield of today is an information–driven domain. Satellite allows the military to have constant, real-time intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) information, enabling better decision making and helping ensure the safety of the American warfighter and our Allies.
WashingtonExec: You have said before that COTM solutions is the future of military communications? Is that still the case? What else are we going to see in the future?
Rick Lober: Communications-on-the-move (COTM) are vital to the military. We live in a world of continuous information flow. Military pilots must be able to talk to the fleet at sea, while also communicating with warfighters ashore, in addition to having continual contact with central command. In our current conflict zones, our deployed soldiers are constantly facing harsh mountainous and urban environments. Traditional communications devices cannot navigate around major obstructions like mountains and buildings. SATCOM can keep continual communication beyond-line-of-sight. Moreover, the need for UAVs and other surveillance tools continues to increase both at home and overseas. Advances in SATCOM technology and platforms will continue to help satisfy the need for command and surveillance information.
However, to be sustainable in the field, warfighters need smaller antennas, lightening their load and allowing for more ubiquitous deployment of COTM equipment. It is also important to control hardware and operational costs. Our country is in a budget crisis, and it is important to utilize the best practices of commercial SATCOM providers to help increase capabilities while decreasing costs. Bandwidth efficient technologies are key to commercial solutions from companies like Hughes which can provide significant savings for COTM applications.
WashingtonExec: Hughes works around the world, how do satellite and military communication technology challenges vary when working in remote vs urban areas? (or developing vs developed countries)
Rick Lober: Satellite is unique in that it has ubiquitous coverage. You do not need the terrestrial infrastructure associated with cable, DSL, or fiber connections. Hughes has a global network that can provide uniformly high quality and secure broadband connectivity for the military or government virtually anywhere—whether here in the DC area, across the US and its territories, or around the planet–from cities, to states, to the most remote locations. That includes airborne and maritime solutions that keep planes or ships connected as they roam across the globe.
WashingtonExec: With America’s numerous wars dying down, do you see the business plan of Hughes changing in the future?
Rick Lober: Whether the United States is at peace or involved in conflicts, the need for information and network-centric communications remains high. Satellite ISR technologies not only ensures our deployed soldiers have the best information possible, but also allows us to help keep our borders and homeland safe. Recently, Al Qaeda’s second in command, was identified and ultimately killed with a drone; this could not have been accomplished without satellite technology. SATCOM is crucial to our ability to remain vigilant and identify, deter, and eradicate threats to the US and its Allies.
WashingtonExec: What do you hope to see happen in the defense community with looming federal spending cuts?
Rick Lober: I hope the defense community comes together and tries to provide the best technological solutions to not only ensure mission success, but to also help reduce cost. The commercial sector is always trying to improve functionality, spur innovation, and reduce cost. We can help bring some of our best practices to the military in this austere economic environment. In terms of SATCOM— smaller antennas, bandwidth efficient technologies, and the utilization of commercial satellites and systems can help the military by providing cutting-edge solutions that also reduce hardware and operational costs. While Hughes primarily serves commercial and consumer markets, I see us playing a much larger role with the DoD and Intelligence communities in the future due to the need to increase capability while radically reducing costs.