Commercial SATCOM – Trusted Partner or Taken for Granted?

Commercial SATCOM providers can sometimes come off as being a little whiny. After all, the need for bandwidth by military users continues to surge, and the military has no choice but to rely on commercial SATCOM to support the warfighter. Why don’t we all just pipe down, and appreciate the business?

Well, try to put yourself in our shoes. Imagine if you’ve been doing a job for over 20 years, and doing it very well. Yet you were never given a formal job offer, or even an exact job description of what your role was supposed to be. Plus, you were never given any kind of commitment, never told when you would no longer be needed. 

That’s the current situation for commercial SATCOM providers. Ever since Desert Storm in 1991 the U.S. military has relied on us to provide the bandwidth required by network- centric combat missions. Back then commercial SATCOM was considered a “last resort,” to be used only as augmentation to military SATCOM. Then in 2004, the introduction of UAV flights really turbocharged the need for flexible, reliable SATCOM.

Fast forward to today, and the “last resort” has now become indispensable. But this dramatic reversal of roles has happened without any forthright conversation or planning. As I’ve previously written for this blog, commercial SATCOM provides the lion’s share of ISR-related bandwidth needed by the military. And the need for that bandwidth is expected to double by 2018. So why is SATCOM still being purchased at spot market pricing, which is inefficient and more costly for the American taxpayer?

To be clear, there will always be a need for a partnership in space between commercial SATCOM and SATCOM the military owns and operates for themselves. But even the most optimistic forecasts for military satellite construction and launch have commercial SATCOM playing a major role for at least another decade. And those projections ignore the production delays and overruns that have plagued military satellite programs in recent years. 

It’s past time for commercial SATCOM to move from temp to perm. Let’s have a healthy dialogue that will allow the commercial space industry to make the investments necessary to continue meeting the needs of the warfighter. As the military adjusts to a new budgetary culture, let’s work together and realign priorities to match today’s ISR realities and commensurate bandwidth requirements.

All we’re looking for is some respect and a clear job description going forward.  We’ve earned it.

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