Inside the Commercial Integration Cell Project

One of the most exciting developments in military space this past year was creation of the Commercial Integration Cell (CIC), allowing satellite operators from commercial companies to sit alongside military personnel at the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) The goal was to enhance the JSpOC commander’s situational awareness of the space domain and develop tactics and procedures for combined operations, helping achieve a better integration of commercial satellite operators and the warfighter.

The CIC is a pilot program to see how information sharing and collaboration between DoD and commercial satellite operators can be improved.  This program is being operated under Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) which are approved by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and address technology transfer challenges between Air Force activities and commercial collaborators. I had the honor of being assigned to the CIC project, and witnessed its success firsthand.

The CIC collaboration seeks to improve conjunction assessment and space object catalog maintenance; enhance rapid identification, diagnosis and resolution of RFI events; identify on-orbit anomalies; and increase overall resilience of government and commercial satellite operations. One particular focus was on exploring the possibility of machine-to-machine interfaces for the exchange of “ephemeris data,” numbers that indicate exact spacecraft locations.

There were six commercial companies that participated in the CIC:

  • Intelsat General Corp
  • SES-GS
  • Eutelsat-America
  • Iridium
  • Inmarsat
  • Digital Globe

We helped craft and perform the concept of operations (CONOP), working as an integrated member of the DoD. We built relationships, learned procedures, and jointly developed contingency plans for space. We performed the CONOP as part of the recent Schriever War Game, and the increased optimization of space assets and additional resiliency shown was judged a huge success. Numerous senior military and civilian DoD leaders expressed this to me directly. The Wargame, which was set in the year 2025, explored critical space issues such as spacecraft jamming to cyber warfare attacks on ground-to-space control infrastructure and the use of anti-satellite weaponry.

The value of a commercial presence inside the JSpOC cannot be overstated. There is the obvious value of improved satellite catalog accuracy and faster, more secure coordination and resolution of interference events. But beyond that, the CIC pilot has laid the groundwork for sustained, combined operations and clearly paved the way for an enduring relationship as true mission partners.

This closer partnership is critical, not just in peaceful times but as preparation for potential times of threat. Placing commercial personnel on the inside greatly improves military and commercial communications by mitigating problems before they occur and increasing response time.

Joint Functional Component Command for Space (JFCC Space) will now assess the CIC program and establish the framework for further collaboration. I believe the success of the CIC demonstrates the immense potential represented by closer military and commercial coordination of space assets. It was a demonstration of what the future needs to look like in space.

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