The U.S. Air Force is targeting 2016 as the year to outsource the operation of its Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) constellation to commercial providers. That’s the exciting theme of a story published earlier this month in Space News.
The Air Force has been developing a strategy for better managing its satellite operations for some time now. (We wrote about the Air Force awarding IGC a study contract for the Air Force Satellite Control Network – AFSCN – last October.) This satellite control network performs the telemetry, tracking and control (TT&C) for government satellites, so it is another element of the Air Force satellite control infrastructure under review.
According to this WGS article, the Air Force found the results of these studies very compelling:
“We gained valuable information from the Commercial Provisioning study, which will be assimilated into our broader analysis on how to integrate operations across multiple satellite programs,” Master Sgt. Kevin Williams, a spokesman for Air Force Space Command, told SatCom Frontier in a March 5 email.
Recent comments from top officials are the strongest indication yet that the transfer of operations is moving quickly from review to actuality. General John Hyten, Commander of Air Force Space Command, has repeatedly made clear he wants Air Force operators to spend more time on battle management and other more difficult tasks and less time on routine, day-to-day satellite operations.
David Madden, executive director of the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles, laid out an aggressive timetable for the transfer as quoted in the Space News article:
“I’m hoping 2016 is going to be the year we finally take the command and control for WGS and move it over to a commercial service,” Madden said.
Madden went on to say it would be far more cost-effective to have commercial providers operate the satellites. And by moving to commercialize the AFSCN mission, the Air Force will be able to maintain mission effectiveness even in the face of potentially harmful sequestration cuts in 2016.
We’re gratified by the growing recognition that the commercial sector has the experience, knowledge and technical skills to operate and manage the Department of Defense’s constellation of wideband satellites. Intelsat General and Intelsat currently support a global fleet of 75 spacecraft that represent the diverse technology of every major satellite manufacturer. We also support a wide variety of customers requiring TT&C services.
The Air Force can be assured we’re well prepared to handle day-to-day operations for WGS, allowing Air Force personnel to pursue more specialized missions that commercial companies can’t do.