Col. Lakos Forecasts Long-Term Expansion of U.S. Hosted Payload Strategy
While hosted payload-type deals have been relatively few and far between in the industry, there is hope that there may be some more highly innovative ones coming up. All eyes will be on the United States, and whether it decides to do more of these types of deals. Col. Michael Lakos, Chief of the Global Mission Support Division of the U.S. Air Force, was recently reassigned out of the milsatcom space. Before he left, Lakos shared the Air Force’s perspective on hosted payloads with Via Satellite, and predicted what could possibly happen in the near future regarding executing these types of deals.
Via Satellite: What is the Air Force Space Command’s view on the benefits of hosted payloads when beefing up capacity options?
Lakos: I think a lot of it has to do with the current budget situation we have now, not just in the United States, but also with the Department of Defense. We started the dialogue with the commercial vendors that have approached us and vice versa, and get things up into space a little bit faster and a little bit cheaper, and also support the way of disaggregation. We have several major space satellite programs that have been around for several years, but we are investigating through this Resilient Basis Study, which is focused mainly on satcom. We are looking at ways of doing things cheaper, with more resilience and to break up the way we have done business up to now. There are a lot of advantages on this kind of shift from a cost, competitive basis and perspective, as well as on a schedule basis. I know that commercial industry would be cautious with a relationship with the government and the military, as they have a pretty firm schedule and they answer to their shareholders. When they go down a path there is a schedule they want to stay in front of, so a delay in terms of a launch or declaring an operational capability usually costs money. Traditionally, it is the military that has a lot of these delays, particularly in terms of getting a payload ready to launch, so it could adversely affect a relationship with a commercial vendor.
Via Satellite: How attractive of an option have hosted payloads become?
Lakos: Lt. Gen. Pawlikowski, Commander of the Space and Missiles Systems Center (SMC) established a hosted payload office in 2011 to start looking at, and identifying opportunities in the commercial market and developing the business case analysis and the business approaches for trying to provide a better value to the tax payer. That is what the people at SMC are chartered to do. It is not just satcom. So, where else can we see a benefit to launching as a host with a commercial vendor? There are other areas within contracts that we are looking at in terms of doing things differently. It is hopefully going to allow Air Force Space Command to launch things sooner rather than later. That ties back to the topic of Operationally Responsive Space (ORS). We have had some success with the ORS approach, and we want to try to keep going that way. Traditionally, getting things into space has taken a long amount of time and costs a lot. Hosted payloads is definitely an area that we are looking to expand into.
Via Satellite: A few years ago, it was all about dedicated systems, but with economic instability and budget cuts, hosted payloads seem to have become a more viable option. Do you believe a fundamental shift in thinking toward hosted payloads has taken shape?
Lakos: I definitely think there has been a shift in thinking. One of things we are looking at is how the Australian Defense Force has partnered with Intelsat, having a payload on the IS-22 satellite. Those of us in the milsatcom area are looking at getting our Enhanced Polar System (EPS) into space in the near future. It is a hosted payload, but it is part of a different way of looking at the architecture. We are working together with the folks at SMC and their advanced concepts division. We have been looking at a “should be” architecture in the next five to six years, and then when you look into the distant future of 2025 to 2030, a new “could be” architecture. That would include the current programs of record such as the AEHF satellite program that we are launching today and the WGS program that has been extremely successful. We are looking at where hosted payloads fit into that, and how can we augment our current programs of record. How can we look at a more affordable alternative than the traditional acquisition approach that we have today.
The budgets are not getting any larger. They are not even staying stable. They are declining at a rate that I haven’t seen in my lifetime. We have to figure out how we sustain the current capabilities that we have in orbit, and somehow modestly increase the capabilities we deliver to the warfighter.
Via Satellite: With some hosted payloads and international cooperation deals already being done, what have been the key lessons so far?
Lakos: We have learned recently with the AEHF program that nothing ever goes to plan. You always have to adapt and move towards a schedule and if you miss a milestone, how do you recover from that? So, we have had to endure schedule slips with AEHF, and work out how that impacts our mission partner, because they are investing a large sum of their treasury into the program. We have signed up to deliver a capability. They have signed up to support that program, and they want the capability out of that because of the investment they have made. One of the key areas we have to ensure from a technical perspective is that the payload design is as mature as can be to a certain technology readiness level so that a hosted payload can be integrated into its host, and meet the schedule. Delays cost money, and delays mean that you don’t get the capability when you are looking for it, and again, looking at the lessons learned, for example from the CHIRP program, I am sure people will look to see how that program was successful, what were the good things, what were the bad things, if any, to make a better system down the line.
Via Satellite: Do you expect to have a closer collaboration with the commercial satellite sector than you perhaps have had in the past? How do you see the relationship between the commercial satellite sector and Air Force Space Command developing?
Lakos: One of the biggest questions we have been tackling is what is the best and most cost-effective mix of milsatcom and commercial satcom. That is a question our leadership frequently gets asked by our Congressional leaders. Traditionally, leasing capacity from commercial satellite providers has been quite expensive. As part of that Resilient Basis Study, we are trying to figure out what is the best mix. The organization, Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), is a huge player in that, as they are the service provider for commercial satellite capacity. We have engaged with them to help us address that issue. They are also on the hook to help us in terms of better ways to do business when it comes to leasing commercial satellite bandwidth and trying to provide that communications support to the warfighter, whether communications-on-the-move or full motion video from the Remotely Pilated Aircraft (RPAs), or the traditional satcom support whether it is wideband or protected, etc.