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Military Satellite Communication Ventures Delicately Balance

By | August 30, 2000

      Between Security And Economy, According To Report

      Business executives wanting to partner with the U.S. military in the 21st century will face greater obstacles beyond baseline contract relations. According to Military Satcom, a supplement produced by our sister publication Via Satellite magazine, military satellite communications systems will compete against capitalism now more than ever. Given that, both the private and government sectors will have to work harder to successfully complete a contract. “I would anticipate that the military satellites that we will see in the future, say 2010, will lean heavily on the investments that the commercial sector has made,” said Vice Adm. Herbert Browne, deputy director of U.S. Space Command. “In addition to that, I think we’re going to find that we lean heavily on the commercial sector for the ground infrastructure piece.”

      Obstacles To Cooperation

      Given that commercial involvement within military space architecture will continue, business developers will have to work at not only the government’s speed but also at its level of technology needed for a successful product.Likewise, the commercial partner will have to view its military partner as a business case on its own. This, indeed, poses a significant obstacle because the private sector is in the business to make a profit and a return on investment for its shareholders. According to the report, dedicated military satellites will be key to the commercial sector’s future profit. “The first concern is: How reliable is the market? I know that DoD bought an Iridium gateway, and we know about the status of Iridium. So, did we invest money in a market that wasn’t as firm as we thought it was, and could we have better spent those dollars?” said Col. Stephen Opel, deputy director for plans and programs at Air Force Space Command. “Deploying around the world, and relying on commercial systems, will I get into a situation where I compete with CNN for frequencies and data rates? Do we the military get into a bidding war with commercial enterprises on getting information?”Opel along with Col. Robert Cox, director of development planning at Los Angeles Air Force Base’s Space and Missile Systems Center, co-chaired a study to determine the significant obstacles these sectors may face. The Commercial Space Opportunities Study primarily focused on the level of interaction between the commercial and military space sectors. “What we found as the biggest payoff in using commercial capabilities is conserving manpower,” said Opel. “If we can have a commercial entity perform a task, I save a military slot. I want to dedicate more military manpower to warfighting, versus having someone sitting at a console somewhere else. As far as cost, cost may be neutral; that is, it may cost me just as much buying a commercial system as it would doing it myself. But if I save manpower for warfighting, I’ve benefited.”

      Manufacturing Tomorrow’s Satellites

      Another matter the report examined was how the military should consider the level of cooperation that it takes with the builders of next-generation satellite systems.Cox said that the military should take stock of what the commercial industry has developed, independent of military guidelines, and devise means to adapt those capabilities to military applications.”Others have mentioned that we should sit down with these new companies and help them design advanced systems. I think it’s a noble idea, but as you sort through the specifics of it, there are policy, regulatory and statutory issues that prevent us from getting very serious about it without going through a cumbersome, lengthy requirement and acquisition process,” Cox added.

      Future Military Business

      Regardless of how the nuances of crafting a successful business relationship with the military pans out, the report states there will be enough overlap between the two sectors to iron out the differences.”There are no purely commercial satellites. I don’t see, in the future studies we’re doing, an era, certainly not in five years, where complete missions go away from the Air Force, and are subsumed by a commercial provider,” Cox said. “But it would be nice if we could transfer routine space activities to the commercial sector and invest in new, high- risk, military space capabilities.”For a subscription to Via Satellite magazine contact: 1-800-777-5006.

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