DoD Gradually Accepting Commercial SATCOM Role

Progress is not always a steady march, with two steps forward often followed by at least one step back. Such is certainly the case with efforts by satellite operators to get the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to become a more efficient buyer of commercial satellite services. After many years of pushing hosted payloads, better acquisition methods, longer-term planning and other measures, the commercial operators know that they finally are being heard.

Progress and setbacks were discussed in equal measure recently when representatives of five leading commercial satellite operators took part in a panel discussion at a Washington Space Business Roundtable (WSBR) event. On the one hand, they expressed satisfaction with some recent efforts by the DoD to look at alternatives to the present method of using only one-year contracts to lease commercial capacity and services. On the other, they questioned a recent DoD study which stated that commercial SATCOM is much more expensive than bandwidth provided by the U.S. military’s Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) constellation.

The DoD report, titled “Commercial Satellite Communications Strategy,” was a direct challenge to the long-held contention of commercial operators that leasing commercial capacity is less expensive than having the military procure, launch and operate its own satellites.

The executives at the WSBR event questioned the methodology in the study, but also pushed the idea that the most efficient military communications would come from developing an integrated architecture that combines the best of what both government and commercial satellites. Skot Butler, Vice President, Satellite Networks & Space Services at Intelsat General, participated in the panel.

According to a report in Space News, the panelists were reluctant to criticize the DoD report without having more information about the methodology used in gathering the cost data. However, they noted some positives, which included:

  • The Pentagon, after more than a decade of relying heavily on commercial satellite operators, is doing a better job of assessing the military’s satellite communications requirements as a whole.
  • Cost figures in the report represent a dramatic improvement from previous discussions with the Air Force dating back to 2007.
  • Multiyear leases can bring down the cost of bandwidth, and help better tailor commercial fleets to military’s needs.
  • The Hosted Payload Solutions (HoPS) satellite program provides a feasible short-term middle ground sought between commercial satellite providers and the DoD.

As previously highlighted on Satcom Frontier, HoPS is unique because it is a program that leverages commercial spacecraft to speed the implementation and reduce the cost of deploying future space applications across the government.

To gain additional insights from this panel, we recommend viewing the entire WSBR presentation below:

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