DISA Official Talks Comsatcom Priorities
[Via Satellite 04-04-2016] The relationship between the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) and the commercial satellite industry has improved over the past few years, according to Eron Miller, chief of the agency’s satcom division infrastructure directorate. This shift comes at a critical inflection point too, as the U.S. military is now gauging its future satcom needs through the Air Force’s Analysis of Alternatives (AoA). DISA is leading a number of Pathfinder programs that will feed into how the agency procures commercial satcom (comsatcom). In an interview with Via Satellite, Miller discussed what has changed regarding how DISA and the commercial sector interact, what the agency’s priorities are today, and how the studies it is undertaking will influence satcom procurement in the future.
Via Satellite: What are some fundamental differences you expect between the Future Commercial Satcom Communications Services Acquisition (FCSA) and the new Complex Commercial Satcom Solutions (CS3) contract vehicles?
Miller: The Complex Satcom Solutions (CS3) contract vehicle is a follow on to the Custom Satellite Solutions (CS2) Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contracts and the small business set-aside (CS2-SB) that made up two of the four original FCSA contracts awarded in the 2011/2012. The main difference with CS3 is that there will only be one IDIQ contract awarded to both small and large businesses. DISA will still set aside some solicitations for small business, but with only one contract small businesses will now be able to compete on all requirements.
Via Satellite: What factors are you considering in preparation for the U.S. Air Force’s Analysis of Alternatives (AoA)?
Miller: At this time, we are focused on the “optimal mix” study described above and completing the DISA Pathfinders to ensure the lessons learned inform the AoA guidance and execution. Beyond that, we look forward to supporting the Air Force in any way we can to ensure success to their AoA efforts.
Via Satellite: In what ways would you say DISA’s relationship with the commercial sector has changed in recent years?
Miller: DISA’s relationship today with the commercial sector is more cooperative than it has been in the past. Five years ago — prior to the FCSA contract vehicle — the relationship with industry was more distant and focused on the commodity pricing of comsatcom bandwidth in a restricted acquisition environment. With the award of the FCSA contract vehicles, we have seen an increase in interaction with the full spectrum of large and small service and bandwidth providers. We see this interaction as extremely useful and informative. At the satcom division we understand that extensive engagement with industry as an essential component to ensuring mission success.
Via Satellite: What comsatcom pathfinder programs is DISA conducting this year? What do you hope to learn from them?
Miller: DISA is working five comsatcom Pathfinder initiatives. All of DISA’s initiatives focus on improving the acquisition of comsatcom services for end users, and are designed to show efficiencies in the procurement and management of comsatcom service/bandwidth leases.
Quick summary of the DISA Pathfinders:
- DISA Pathfinder 1 (Requirements Analysis): Refine understanding of DOD’s global annual and long-term comsatcom requirements.
- DISA Pathfinder 2 (Aggregate Requirements): Analyze requirements and collaboratively engage with Combatant Commands, Services, and Agencies, to identify “similar” requirements which can be aggregated into a single comsatcom procurement.
- DISA Pathfinder 3 (Multi-Year Contracting): Establish multi-year contract for long-term comsatcom requirement(s). Identify issues, risks, and mitigation strategies to discuss with acquisition leadership.
- DISA Pathfinder 4 (Utilization Monitoring): Monitor comsatcom data usage and spectrum usage, and compare to capacity leased, to ensure/improve utilization efficiency.
- DISA Pathfinder 5 (Active Management): Evaluate best practices in use by commercial industry and comsatcom end users to build a DOD-wide process designed to improve the purchase, use, and cost-efficiency of future comsatcom acquisitions.
Through the execution of these Pathfinders the department hopes to better understand our requirements for wideband satcom, investigate the viability of alternative acquisition approaches to satisfy our requirements, better understand our utilization habits to ensure efficient utilization, and ensure effective management and usage of commercial leased capacity.
Via Satellite: At SATELLITE 2016, you mentioned new analyses DISA plans to undertake in order to determine an optimal mix of comsatcom and milsatcom. What are you looking to learn/re-evaluate from these studies?
Miller: DISA, and the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), have been tasked to provide recommendations to the DOD CIO on the best mix of commercial and military satcom for DOD to meet future mission requirements. Currently, my team is working with the Air Force in developing business case level information to complete this task. The analysis is due early this month and we are continuing to examine operational and acquisition data to build the final report.
Via Satellite: How has DISA’s comsatcom needs changed over the past 12 months?
Miller: Overseas commercial satcom demand has decreased in proportion to the number of U.S. forces returning home. Concurrently, we have seen an increase in comsatcom bandwidth and service requests for the continental United States (CONUS) which indicates that DOD continues to require comsatcom services to augment current CONUS MILSATCOM assets.
We have also seen an increase in the number of end users asking for information about managed services and other product offerings — a noticeable change from the past years where end users were predominantly interested in just procuring bandwidth for their missions and training.
Via Satellite: What are the barriers to long-term capacity contracts for comsatcom? Is the risk of contract termination liability still a top concern?
Miller: The DISA Pathfinder initiatives are discovering solutions for previous challenges. Through the DISA Pathfinder initiatives, we have identified acquisition policies that preclude long-term capacity contracts today, and we are building a set of mitigation strategies for acquisition senior leadership to consider.
Via Satellite: Greater flexibility with satellite capacity has been a major theme recently, particularly as satellites with digital payloads are getting introduced commercially. What capabilities is DISA looking for when it comes to flexible satellite services?
Miller: DISA’s comsatcom mission is to provide customer focused, cost effective solutions that enable Joint War fighting. The requirements we support are Combatant Command, Service, and Agency requirements. Some of the new commercial service offerings have the potential to provide greater flexibility to our customers while also offering improved price points.
Greater flexibility will improve utility and decrease waste, which would save the DOD money. Due to the variable nature of the departments’ requirements, additional flexibility in data throughput, coverage, portability that could be provided by new service offerings are of great interest to DISA and the DOD.
Via Satellite: Cybersecurity is a growing concern as more and more devices become connected. How does this factor into DISA’s use of, and expectation of comsatcom services?
Miller: Cybersecurity and Information Security (INFOSEC) are serious concerns for all DOD communications across all media to include comsatcom. For this reason, DISA performs an Information Assurance (IA) assessment of all proposed comsatcom solution to identify risks and to ensure customers are aware of these risks and can develop proper mitigations. This assessment is then reviewed by the DISA Authorizing Official for approval prior to contract award. DISA would like to continue to partner with industry on INFOSEC related issues and concerns.
DISA co-chairs the Commercial Space INFOSEC Working Group (CSIWG) with the National Security Agency (NSA) to maintain partnership with industry and facilitate the exchange of perspectives, ideas and information regarding INFOSEC.
Via Satellite: What are things the commercial sector could do better in working with DISA?
Miller: I would like to talk more with industry about the business and service innovations being introduced in the commercial sector that could provide more cost-effective global communications solutions for DOD.
We are always open to engagement with industry — whether it’s an established provider or someone new to DOD satellite communications market. If you have a good idea/solution for effective global commercial-based satcom services, DISA would like to hear from you. The department is always interested in innovative, cost effective solutions to meet our requirements.