U.S. Air Force Official Talks of More Expansive Hosted Payload Strategy (Part Two)
[Satellite News 05-25-12] In the first part of this two-part interview Col. Michael Lakos, Chief, Global Mission Support Division of the U.S. Air Force, spoke about the Air Force’s perspective on hosted payloads, and what could possibly happen in the near future regarding executing these types of deals. In the second part of the interview, Lakos talks about how the United States can collaborate internationally and what have been the lessons so far when trying to bring these collaborations together.
SATELLITE NEWS: We are starting to see more international cooperation with the likes of the Australian Defense Force, for example. What are the benefits of such a cooperation? What are the challenges of making it work?
Lakos: If we focus back to our national security space strategy, it has been acknowledged that space is getting more congested. More people are getting into space and launching into a competitive environment. It is not just the big three anymore — meaning the United States, the Chinese and the Russians. The European Space Agency (ESA) is launching more, and there are several other new entrants. We have to compete to meet our own national security objectives, so we have to be responsible in terms of what we do in space, and also be able to deter aggression against any of our assets. Anytime we can cooperate with an ally such as the Australians is useful. You have to remember, we already have partnerships through the AEHF program with Canada, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. We have also recently signed into an agreement with five new partners with the WGS program, so we are continuing to go down that path of sharing space with other nations and also form partnerships that will not only provide capabilities to our own warfighters, but to the warfighters of our allies. So, hosted payloads, either on our own satellite systems or on a foreign partner’s system, would help us with our mission objectives and vice versa with their mission objectives.
SATELLITE NEWS: 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.
SATELLITE NEWS: 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.
SATELLITE NEWS: With troop drawdowns beginning to happen in certain hot spots in the Middle East, how will this impact your demands for capacity in the next few years?
Lakos: We are still going to be flying RPAs. We are still under a mandate from our Defense Department to maintain 65 Combat Air Patrols (CAPs), and so we are going to have to have an infrastructure that will support that. We have been very successful in providing full motion video to warfighters on the ground. Obviously, numbers in Iraq have been withdrawn quite significantly. We are still in Afghanistan, and we are always going to have to support the next crisis around the world. I know that our combatant command (COCOM) out in the Pacific Rim is looking to increase their RPA flights for their missions. I don’t think the demand is going to go down, but in the end, we may see it go up. We are still committed to fielding the WGS system. The AEHF program is alive and well. As we are doing that, we are looking at ways of doing things differently. This is where hosted payloads come into the discussion. If we get things up into space faster and get things done cheaper, that will make us more successful. We have to get things done cheaper, but at the same time we don’t want to risk mission success by doing something cheaper and faster. We have to weigh the pros and cons before coming to an agreement.