Modernizing Military Space Requires Next-Level Collaboration, Innovation
Although hard to believe, it has been about two months since industry executives gathered for SATELLITE 2020. I wanted to take an opportunity to remember the breadth of discussions and topics covered when last our industry gathered in person.
The creation of the U.S. Space Force signifies a new era for satellite communications with more opportunities than ever to innovate in the interest of enabling the military community and government users to leverage greater capabilities. This provides the government an exceptional opportunity to transform how satcom capability is procured, operationally managed and delivered.
The forward-looking momentum resonated in a recent industry and government panel discussion at the SATELLITE 2020 conference. The perspectives the panelists presented during the session “Modernizing Military Space: How Global Defense Organizations are Preparing for the Future,” lent considerable encouragement that the government and industry can move forward as partners in strategically securing what the Space Force describes as the new enterprise Vision for Satellite Communications.
During the discussion, I emphasized that industry is an essential provider of innovative capabilities for government users to ensure mission success. Since the commercial industry is such a predominant player in space innovation, it is important to appreciate what this means in terms of creating a new type of partnership between commercial and government. That said, industry is advocating for funding, resources, and talent that will help guide the new military service to develop, deploy, and plan for space capabilities. Key areas of interest for the mobility communications industry include how the U.S. government buys satcom services, as well as how the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) forges new and evolving relationships with commercial partners and allies. As a result, this will be informative of how business relationships will change.
An acquisition overhaul encourages “go faster” thinking
My fellow panelists and I spoke about how to “go faster” in fulfilling the government’s new enterprise vision of integrating the currently loose federation of satcom systems to improve resiliency, robustness, flexibility, and manageability in a space domain that is increasingly contested, degraded, and operationally-limited.
“A single, integrated satcom enterprise will deliver unparalleled options … for mission success,” states the Vision report, which was published in January 2020. “Compared to today’s collection of stove piped satcom systems, the enterprise will deliver the performance and resilience necessary to address a 21st century contested space domain.”
With a single government advocate in place to support “commercial first” investments via a program of record, we can swiftly move away from inefficient commercial satcom purchasing methods which depend upon Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding. Rather, future federal budget appropriations would fund commercial-driven production, operation, and sustainment. This would require multiple funding types including Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E), Procurement, as well as Operations and Maintenance (O&M) within the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) to intentionally and strategically acquire comsatcom as part of the overall integrated architecture.
The commercial industry is working ahead of the government in developing technology innovation for space, so government should take advantage of the commercial edge to the fullest extent possible. By partnering with one another, industry can plan, produce, and innovate in a more strategic manner, to effectively align its efforts and investments with stated government needs.
We are seeing notable steps being taken in this direction, as a program of record created for “commercial satcom integration” received $49.5 million in funding in Fiscal Year (FY) 2019, with the Space Force calling for an additional $43 million in FY 2021. Real budgetary support for the commercial-government partnership will embolden a more agile acquisition culture that thinks differently both in planning and operations.
It is also important to demonstrate the advantages of thinking of satcom as a business case to obtain services rather than the traditional approach of acquiring hardware. Satcom-as-a-Service – a business model which allows for rapid delivery of proven technologies to incorporate end-to-end capabilities including satellites, ground infrastructure as well as type-approved terminals – complements the integrated enterprise architecture with greater and more diverse capabilities and ongoing technology innovation.
Building awareness will rally public support for space vision
But progression toward a fully realized enterprise satcom vision depends upon more than budget dollars, as we have to convince the global public of its critical urgency. Our public awareness challenge entails informing citizens about how vital a role satellites play in our economies, public safety, and protecting our way of life. This goes far beyond simply navigating on a smartphone — it is about taking money out of ATMs, watching television, supplying electrical power, and responding to disasters.
As such, it is in the collective industry and government interest to make sure we can protect our space and ground assets and continue to provide services globally to all of our customers across a number of different environments, including contested environments. I expect such a message will make a profound impression upon our younger generations as we seek to inform them, but ignite a passion within them so they are inspired to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). To translate this passion into real-world impact, we have to ensure that STEM curriculum is made available and tirelessly promoted to students – the earlier in their lives, the better, as they are future leaders in the space domain.
We need to continue to build the foundation for a commercial and government partnership that is being put in place today. And on top of this, build a forward-looking culture by educating how this approach not only ensures mission success but improves quality of lives. We must embrace our championing of space and an integrated architecture driven by “commercial first” principles and innovation that will grow more robust and “go faster” in experimenting and developing new capabilities – ones which are unimaginable today – but simply are the future of a modern military space.
Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch is the senior vice president of Government Strategy & Policy at Inmarsat Government