Seven Ways to Make the DoD a Better Buyer of Commercial SATCOM

With significant budget cuts looming, and mission requirements increasing, the cost-efficient use of commercial SATCOM can help the Department of Defense (DoD) be more effective in today’s resource-constrained times.

Earlier this month, executives from commercial satellite firms came together to offer seven practical steps that would allow the DoD to save money, while ensuring reliable access to commercial SATCOM services.

This document from the satellite operators was written in response to the Department of Defense’s Better Buying Power 2.0 (BBP2.0) initiative.  BBP2.0 was implemented to develop, “fundamental acquisition principles to achieve greater efficiencies through affordability, cost control, elimination of unproductive processes and bureaucracy, and promotion of competition. BBP initiatives also incentivize productivity and innovation in industry.”

The satellite operator’s paper was designed to respond to the BBP2.0 initiative by providing experience-based recommendations that could help DoD make better, lower-cost use of commercial SATCOM.

Here are some key insights from that document:

  1. Establish a Baseline:  The U.S. military will never be able to cost-effectively meet the warfighter requirements for bandwidth using only government-owned-and-operated satellites.  As such, the DoD should establish a baseline amount of satellite communications capacity that it needs to buy from commercial operators, and then contract for that capacity on a long-term basis.
  2. Compare Costs of Commercial Versus Military:  The DoD often does not know what it really costs to procure MILSATCOM, since budgets rarely include the entire life-cycle costs of the program.  Commercial satellite prices, on the other hand, must include all of the costs – from planning and procurement all the way through operations and deorbit.
  3. Use ID/IQ Contracts Only for Supplementing Baseline Requirements:  Bandwidth and support services purchased from commercial satellite operators under ID/IQ contracts cost more than if purchased under a long-term agreement.  In addition, spot-market buying costs the DoD 25 percent more than going with long-term contracts.
  4. Fully Integrate Both Commercial and Military Capabilities:  The DoD designs, builds and launches military satellites with capabilities that often overlap or are incompatible with existing commercial networks.   To be more effective, the DoD should fully integrate commercial and military capabilities.
  5. Partner with Industry to Build Protected Communications Infrastructure for Space Systems:  Commercial satellites can play a critical role in providing improved protection for important missions, such as UAVs.  Dedicated commercially hosted payloads can provide protection features that can rival those currently provided by the most secure military satellites.
  6. Use Hosted Payloads:  Hosted payloads on commercial satellites offer the fastest and most cost-effective method of getting a specialized communications capability in orbit.
  7. Have a Single Office Handle All Commercial and Military Satellite Capabilities:  Rather than have different offices handling the provision of DoD satellite requirements, it makes more sense to have a single office responsible for both commercial and military satellite communications. The commercial operators believe that the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) could best serve as the single point for all the Department’s needs.

Commercial SATCOM can help DoD meet its expanding satellite communication requirements within the constraints imposed in today’s challenging budgetary times.  This comprehensive document provides actionable recommendations that will allow the Pentagon to fully leverage the commercial sector in ways that support the mission and does not break the bank.

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