Commercial Industry Needs Clear Requirements, Not R&D Incentives

The need for the DoD to improve the procurement process for satellite services is a regular topic in the trade press. But it is clear that general awareness of the issue is also on the rise, as shown by a recent feature story in the Washington Post.

Such a story appeared last month in the Post, reporting on the Air Force’s Bending the Cost Curve (BTCC) program. We’ve already written about Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and BTCC here on SatCom Frontier, and in general strongly support its goals of cutting costs and shedding bureaucracy involved in delaying contract awards.

There is one element of BTCC which we feel is unnecessary, however. The Post coverage talks about the need for more innovation from contractors:

The Pentagon has begun writing its procurement rules to create more incentives for companies to conduct research and development. The Air Force’s effort aims to complement that work.

It’s “a targeted initiative to encourage innovation and industry partnerships to procure systems and drive down costs,” James said.

To be candid, the commercial space industry requires no incentive from government to innovate – we must innovate to succeed in a very competitive business. In fact, the capabilities of commercial space assets today far outstrip those of military systems in many areas. And the discrepancy will grow much larger very soon with the launch of new, high-throughput satellite (HTS) platforms.

[Click here for a clip of a compelling exchange on this topic between DoD Undersecretary Frank Kendall and Rep. Jim Bridenstine.)

What commercial providers need from government is a clear understanding of the capabilities the military requires. Unfortunately, that’s not as straightforward a question as it may first appear.

An article from Inside the Air Force discussed comments made by Major General John Shanahan, Commander of the 25th Air Force regarding ISR requirements:

The issue of prioritizing ISR distribution is exacerbated by a lack of clearly defined requirements. If decision-makers had a more complete picture from combatant commanders of the capabilities and requirements that need to be met — rather than just a request for specific ISR platforms — there would be more opportunity to examine alternative ways to meet those needs,” Shanahan said.

In some cases the military should focus mainly on the mission, not on developing the technology to accomplish it. The private space sector has technological innovation covered – just let us know where and when the capacity is needed.

Give us clear requirements, and simplify unwieldy procurement processes so innovative technology can be deployed to support the warfighter. Do those things, and the commercial bandwidth and services will be there. Just like they have been since the first Gulf conflict.


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