[Satellite News 11-08-11] As budget cuts have become a standard issue in developing U.S. military communications strategies, the Pentagon has been searching for ways to improve the performance of its network infrastructure at a lower cost without sacrificing the geographic reach of its operations.
While some see recently developed U.S. military space policies and the potential for hosted payloads as one of the first steps in solving these challenges, Inmarsat Government Services President Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch senses a more difficult challenge in changing the mindset of government officials responsible for executing these strategies.
In an interview with Satellite News, Cowen-Hirsch outlines what she believes has to happen in order for the military to meet its resiliency requirements. She also warned that there is not much time left to deal with the government’s long list of technology acquisition issues.
Satellite News: Hosted Payloads seem to be the commercial industry’s prime example of what it can provide for the government’s current requirements set. What role do you see Hosted Payloads playing in the policy discussion?
Cowen-Hirsch: The whole conversation has taken place in a wide array of settings. I just sat in on a panel of U.S. government representatives talking about acquisition and policy as well as the decision making process involving the Defense Space Council. I think that what we are seeing with hosted payloads is a great deal of interest in looking at these platforms as a compliment to other aspects of architectures and as a way to roll in new commercial relationships. But there is so much upheaval right now with the current military budget and oversight process, as well as with the program architecture. The discussion has been whether or not the government has the ability to disaggregate requirements and evaluate where hosted payloads fit into the overall solution set in a meaningful fashion – specifically how hosted payloads will differ or compliment other relationships with commercial industry.
Satellite News: Has there been any progress in moving the hosted payload discussion in that direction?
Cowen-Hirsch: There remains a movement in terms of interest in using hosted payloads as one element of a solution set, but all of these other decision-making cycles are in such a spiral that this positive momentum is not necessarily moving forward.
Satellite News: What do you think needs to be done on the government side to end this spiral?
Cowen-Hirsch: I think what is important in the communications arena is a U.S. military resiliency basis study that has been in the works for quite some time. This study guide was created to focus on aggregation questions related to protected communication and the balance between milsatcom and commercial satcom. But the project has lagged for many, many months. That study needs to come out by its deadline in April 2012 and it has to be visible and play into these decision-making cycles in the Pentagon.
In different arenas, whether its with Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) capability or Positioning/Navigation timing on different mission functionalities, the government needs to be able to understand which of its current programs of record are still relevant. Most importantly, the government needs to be able to make some of those difficult decisions to disaggregate capabilities in favor of something more timely, resilient and affordable. They can do this by leveraging innovation from the commercial industry, which can provide technology faster and at a lower cost. One of the ways it can do this is by using hosted payloads. But the government must also know where it must maintain it’s owned, operated, built and ascribed assets and exquisite capabilities.
Satellite News: How does budget affect this need for a new understanding?
Cowen-Hirsch: The impetus of the conversation in Washington now, more than ever, has been the ability to balance innovative concepts with mission requirements consistent with the budgetary plan. It is essential for the government to be able to look at the whole plot and to understand the mission architectural assessments come into play. The government should also consider the budget in terms of where and when it can get out of the business of building its own satellites with decades-old technology. The commercial side can provide innovation much faster and at more affordable rates to improve resiliency.
Satellite News: Are you optimistic that the U.S. government will be able to see a possible connection between changing its thinking and cutting costs?
Cowen-Hirsch: I am optimistic as all the pieces are in place for this change to occur – The administrative leadership is on board, Congress is looking to do something fundamentally different and the industry is ready to respond. However, I think we are about to arrive at a cataclysmic moment with what is going to happen in the U.S. military’s debt committee. Yes, the time is now for innovation, but the difficulty will be whether the status quo mentality of people at the execution level within the government and convince them to operate in the best interest of the warfighter and the taxpayer. That’s a hard nut to crack.