There has been progress in moving the hosted payload discussion in the direction of 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, says Cowen-Hirsch, who highlights a recently conducted U.S. military resiliency basis study as an important conversation starting point.
“This study guide has been in the works for quite some time. It 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,” Cowen-Hirsch says.
Most satellite executives in the sector agree that the government needs to be able to understand which of its current programs of record are still relevant. This pertains to a variety of different program arenas from Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) capability to positioning and navigation timing on different mission functionalities.
Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems (S&IS) vice president, Jim Simpson, says that when it comes to the apparent relevancy of hosted payloads, the U.S. government has not yet been able to fully utilize the platform’s potential because there aren’t many examples in orbit. But, he also believes that another aspect that has held things up is that the government is trying to understand how the allocations of spectrum would work and how they would be able to manage these activities within their current infrastructure. “Some of the possible ways they could do this would be through some kind of a U.S. General Services Administration (GSA 70) schedule with the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) or a contract through the U.S. Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) or some other vehicle,” Simpson says. “I do believe that there are a lot of opportunities that are being worked right now by both sides. We don’t see any real impediment on the government side. We just see that there is a lot of groundwork that needs to be done to be able to enable the government to fully utilize hosted payloads.”
The good news for the satellite industry is that the U.S. government is clearly interested in hosted payloads and is starting to investigate other approaches. “These strategies are relative to either hosted payloads or commercial satellites complementing the existing systems by the notion of DISA’s ASSIST program, which the government is looking at as something that could come into fruition to complement the [Wideband Global Satcom] WGS fleet. While we’re starting to see a real emergence of hosted payloads, we must remember that the technology is currently in an early phase of adoption for the U.S. government,” says Simpson.
But Cowen-Hirsch stresses that the government needs to be able to make some difficult decisions to disaggregate capabilities in favor of something more timely, resilient and affordable. “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,” she says. “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.”