Commercializing the Air Force’s Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) satellite bus operations continues to attract widespread interest. Air Force personnel have said they’d like to see it happen in 2016. Commercialization of WGS and other DoD satellite operations is coming, and there are many reasons why it benefits our military.
In September 2015, the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) sent a Request for Information (RFI) to industry to identify potential sources to perform 24/7 WGS on-orbit operations and maintenance of the constellation of WGS satellite platforms. The RFI was also used to gather industry’s estimates of start-up and operation cost, transition timelines, and the ability to provide the necessary capabilities.
As noted in a thorough update by Space News on this prominent issue last month:
“The request for information is one of the first steps to commercialize some of the service’s satellite operations and transfer others to a new common ground system. The changes are a top priority for Gen. John Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command, who has preached the message for months.
Commercialization will provide greater efficiency and free up resources for the Air Force. Commercial operators typically use just a fraction of the personnel used in the military for operating satellites. Rather than spending time on routine satellite maintenance, uniformed staff would be freed up to focus on battle management tasks. Commercialization will also diversify and strengthen the government command and control network with global, secure, and resilient multi-path access.
Commercialization of WGS also helps the Air Force achieve its Enterprise Ground Architecture (EGA) goals. A major initiative supported strongly by General Hyten , EGA aims to give military satellite networks a much more flexible, “plug and play” capability that would add redundancy and make it far easier to keep up with advances in technology. Moving away from custom-built ground systems for each space mission will save a great deal of money while increasing capability and responsiveness.
It’s interesting to note that the Air Force is pushing toward commercialization rather than outsourcing. There are important differences between outsourcing and commercialization. Outsourcing usually takes an existing process or task and simply transfers it to an external provider. In the case of WGS, commercialization delivers proven commercial operational performance, commercial facilities, commercial operators, a global commercial network and private sector best practices.
Intelsat has the experience to support the Air Force needs for commercializing DoD satellite operations. Intelsat’s operational experience dates back to the first commercial satellite operation of Early Bird 1, developed by Hughes, which was later purchased by Boeing. This was 50 years ago.
Today, Intelsat operates 14 Boeing satellites that share the same design as the WGS satellite bus. Intelsat General stands ready to support the Air Force in their commercialization goals in 2016 and beyond.