Adjusting to a New Budgetary Culture in Space

In my role as the head of Intelsat General, I’m constantly in touch with our customers. We conduct a frank discourse on how can we help them meet their missions in space, overcome obstacles, and best utilize commercial SATCOM. As I wrote back in July, an incredible 90% of in-theater military communications rides on commercial space networks.

All of us in the governmental space market are in the vanguard of a challenging new era. Very difficult questions that haven’t been relevant for over a decade will now need to be answered. What programs do we keep?  Which do we cut? Are there better, more efficient ways to accomplish a particular mission?

Answering these questions represents a true culture change for many of our customers.

It’s been well established that individuals work through stress and grief in phases – Denial, Anger, and eventually Acceptance. We’re at the initial phase of the government’s reaction to the new budget culture for space, which I’d call Hunkering Down. It’s a natural impulse when faced with choices that have no easy answers. The walls come up, and the focus is on saving “our” programs.

It’s understandable, but unfortunate. Not only does this impulse prevent reaching out for help, but it also becomes such a focus that executing on the mission suffers. Hunkering Down also prevents any coordination among branches of the military, hurting chances for a coordinated and strategic response to this country’s space challenges.

There have been some encouraging signs of change. It was a major goal of the 2010 National Space Policy to make more and better use of commercial networks that are already operational, proven and ready for use today. How we’re supporting the Navy through our CBSP program is a good example of that kind of approach.   

Additionally, the DoD is sub-leasing UHF capacity on the Australian Defense Force’s (ADF) hosted payload on board the soon-to-launched Intelsat-22 spacecraft.  This hosted payload is saving the ADF over $150 million and cutting years off deployment time.  The U.S. Government could realize similar benefits by leasing hosted payloads directly from commercial operators, and indications are that they are slowly moving in that direction.

Programs like these are why I’m optimistic about the future, despite the tough budgetary climate. We’ve a better chance of getting these very tough calls correct by working together. Doing so is in the best interest of the mission, the warfigher and the American taxpayer.  

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