A new military satellite communications landscape is emerging. With budgets being cut, the door is being opened for greater flexibility and innovation as DoDs’ try and meet increasing bandwidth demands, but try and reduce costs at the same time.
Faced with tighter fiscal budgets and the unrelenting need for military bandwidth, DoD and government users increasingly are looking for ways to leverage the innovation and cost efficiencies offered by a more nimble commercial satellite industry.
Examples of a more inclusive, collaborative spirit are everywhere — from the National Space Policy and National Strategic Space Plan, which call for more hosted payloads and greater commercial engagement, to new procurement vehicles such as the Future Commercial Satellite Communications (COMSATCOM) Services Acquisition (FCSA), which replaces DSTS-G, to enable greater competition from the commercial market for a host of satellite services. In addition, DISA’s ASSIST (Assured SATCOM Services In Single Theater) initiative, if approved by Congress, would allow the government to move all its Ku-band bandwidth to a single spacecraft built by the commercial industry.
“There is growing confidence level in the interaction between DoD and commercial companies,” says Patricia Cooper, president of the Satellite Industry Association (SIA). She says during the last decade, closer ties to the commercial sector have built a level of operational trust that wasn’t present 10 years ago.
Bruce Bennett, program executive officer for Communications for the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), observes that there is a growing recognition on both sides that “neither of us is going to succeed without the other.”
“We’re working on different kinds of concepts that bring more commercial (capabilities forward) to satisfy the DoD’s needs. We’re actively participating in their roadmaps; they’re actively participating in ours,” says Bennett.
The commercial industry, he adds, has a seat at the table for Operationally Responsive Space, to facilitate better tracking of all of the objects in space and to reduce the risk of interference or collisions as space gets more congested.
Cooper notes there is more industry-government classified dialogue occurring through forums such as the Mission Assurance Working Group. This group brings DoD and the commercial satcom industry together to discuss ways to improve processes, programs and policies for enhanced mission assurance. According to Cooper, the group’s working-level discussions led to the formation of the Space Data Association last November. SDA’s mission is to address on-orbit safety, safety of flight and collision mitigation.
“The (reliance on commercial providers) is becoming more institutionalized,” adds Bill Ostrove, a research analyst with Forecast International. The change, he says, is driven by a combination of several factors — including sheer demand for connectivity, economic pressures and the cancellation of TSAT. “The economy and the renewed focus on saving money by government has sped the process along and made it more important.”
It’s a different environment compared with 10 years ago when senior Pentagon officials were on record saying commercial bandwidth was a temporary gap filler for the military. That position, says Cooper, was not a “huge confidence builder in the commercial sector for investment or innovation to respond to military requirements.”
Fast-forward to 2011 — and the environment has changed, with both U.S. and global commercial players actively expanding the scope and reach of their satellite capabilities to target government needs.
“The landscape has changed dramatically to the point that the government, in particular the DoD, treats service providers as mission partners,” observes Tom Eaton, president of Harris CapRock Communications.
Harris Corporation acquired CapRock Communications last year — a move that enabled Harris to expand from a technology business to an end-to-end managed service provider in both the government and energy markets. CapRock’s government division was one of the original three firms selected for the DSTS-G contract vehicle.
Eaton says in the last 12 months, Harris has combined CapRock with two subsequent acquisitions and an existing maritime-subsea business to expand the company’s global infrastructure, including its terrestrial network with 80 points of presence worldwide.
Eaton sees more opportunities to provide the military with fully managed services, including offering a secure portal that users can access to send their requirements and communications needs directly to Harris CapRock. Eaton also is seeing more need for mobile solutions that are deployable anywhere in the world. The company’s CommandAccess global network provides a set of highly portable terminals that can operate seamlessly worldwide, he says.