That’s the verdict of a very thorough editorial post recently published by National Defense magazine. The piece by Sandra Erwin details multiple areas where DoD is wrestling with the need to adopt new processes to more efficiently procure satellites and space services.
Despite the lack of a coherent overall direction, there is cause for optimism. First, policy makers are having an active and serious conversation across a range of complicated issues about the need for change. The importance of such a discussion cannot be overstated, and is a change from the recent past.
In a specific example, the U.S. Space Command has conducted a year-long study of how the military could more efficiently acquire “protected” satellite communications services. A white paper released in 2013 predicted that the military’s previous dependence on billion-dollar “aggregated” satellites might no longer be affordable, and that the United States ought to consider moving toward small-satellite, distributed or “disaggregated” architectures.
These architectures would use hosted payloads to spread assets across more space platforms, making space assets more difficult for enemies to attack and disable. These types of attacks are increasingly likely as potential rivals in space increase their capacity and look to challenge the United States
The article quotes Doug Loverro, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, on this point:
“Over the last 15 years, other nations have watched us closely and have recognized that if they are to challenge the United States, they must challenge us in space,” Loverro said. “We don’t want space to become our Achilles’ heel.
Loverro has also talked about moving beyond one-year leases, which is the most expensive way to purchase commercial satcom capacity. Moving to multi-year leasing would immediately increase the amount and lower the cost of commercial bandwidth to the military.
“We have a robust commercial industry, but we don’t have a robust way of accessing it,” Loverro is quoted as saying. “Why don’t we have access to hundreds of satellites, in ways better than single-year leases?”
That’s an excellent question and one the commercial industry has asked for years. These are tough questions however, without simple answers. Change comes slowly in government. The military is to be commended for trying to improve the capacity and lower the cost of space services at the same time demand for these critical services is rapidly increasing.
U.S. space capacity is the envy of the world. Working together, the commercial industry and the DoD can ensure it remains so in the future.