Enterprise Ground Services Critical to U.S. Space Capabilities

In November, Brigadier General Nina Armagno gave an excellent presentation on Air Force Space Command’s Enterprise Ground Services (EGS) to industry. The event was organized by the National Defense Industry Association Rocky Mountain Chapter. She painted a clear picture of what EGS is, how it needs to evolve and better support U.S. space resiliency, and asked for industry’s feedback.

EGS is not a new kind of ground system or acquisition program – it’s a new approach to satellite ground infrastructure to support General Hyten’s vision for the future Space Operations Enterprise. General Armagno provided a good definition – EGS is an initiative designed to:

 

  • Improve AFSPC warfighting capability
  • Focus operators on mission effects vice routine tasks
  • Expose data to enable exploitation by applications & services
  • Create a set of government owned standards and interfaces
  • Use early prototyping activities to test and enforce their use on legacy and future AFSPC ground systems
  • Transition legacy AFSPC ground systems and ensure future ground systems build to a common ground architecture

The biggest driver behind EGS is the need for greater resiliency. Currently every system is highly stove-piped, and has limited interoperability with other mission ground systems. It’s a highly inefficient system that creates too many single points of failure in the case of conflict. What’s needed is a set of standards and common core pieces that would allow systems to interoperate and serve as backup for greater redundancy. This would also optimize resources across space missions.

Repurposing of personnel is part of EGS, as the DoD looks to commercialize routine satellite operations. The Air Force is leaning toward commercializing for Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) operations in 2016, and the Air Force Satellite Control Network (AFSCN) is to follow. Routine satellite command and control can be serviced by a commercial operator, allowing the Air Force to focus Airmen on battlefield management tasks and payload mission operations.

General Armagno talked about the need for a sustained commitment to EGS and a phased approach. She specifically called on industry to assist the DoD in this transition, through:

  • Embracing the EGS vision & objectives, and contributing through the development of things like new applications and capabilities
  • Supporting the DoD in developing open architecture standards, and recommending the best ways to work together
  • Support EGS by developing applications and capability that move in the direction of enhancing cross-mission data exploitation and leveraging common services, as opposed to optimizing within stovepipes

There’s no question EGS is a positive and necessary step towards a more resilient space architecture. However, a heavy focus on standards could bring some unintended consequences. Standards for data fusion are very good, but EGS should be about defined services as well. Standards could quickly evolve to more government requirements, which could be used to promote proprietary, non-COTS solutions. Standards are healthy on one hand, but too many standards could prevent rapid innovation in future DoD Space programs.

Contracting for commercial space services can bypass the incredibly lengthy USG acquisition and review process that prevents timely innovation. Procuring a new space system requires review and approval through the Joint Requirements Oversight Council and Congress, through the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System (JCIDs) and Congressional budget process, a process that takes years to implement change and to acquire new capabilities. Buying space services from commercial operators “bakes in” innovation, since the commercial sector is constantly innovating to stay competitive, and can be contracted and delivered over a period of weeks and months versus years or decades.

Service contracts, such as SATCOM services supporting UAS commanding and data transport, do not require significant reviews and approvals through the lengthy JCIDs process. When it comes to resiliency, Air Force Space Command has an opportunity to take the same approach for Satellite Operations and data transport. What’s fantastic about this approach is they receive all the upgrades and innovation as part of their service delivery that a Commercial Operator is incorporating anyway to stay ahead of the competition.

Focusing on services as well as standards will allow EGS to meet its objectives and improve U.S. space resiliency. It’s an important way private industry can help the DoD make this important transition.