Reform efforts around how the government acquires commercial SATCOM are showing increased momentum. Late last year we wrote about encouraging language in the fiscal year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
This month I attended a Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces hearing. The topic of the hearing was military space programs. The attendees and the points made demonstrate a new understanding of the challenges in space and the need for the military and commercial industry to work together on innovative solutions.
Senator Udall, chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, directed many of his comments towards growing threats directed at American space assets. General William Shelton, Commander, Air Force Space Command, agreed that the United States’ superiority in space is no longer a given. He believes the U.S. is at a strategic crossroads. Today’s challenges require a rethinking of how to protect space systems, improve acquisition practices and consider alternative space architectures.
Doug Loverro, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, OSD, also talked about increased space competition in his remarks at the hearing. Mr. Loverro talked about how other nations have studied carefully how to challenge the United States in space, and he also highlighted increased space congestion and debris as risk factors.
Lt. Gen. David Mann, USA, Commander, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, testified that space was essential to the Army’s ability to see, shoot, move and communicate. General Mann identified three main objectives for an effective space policy:
- Provide trained and ready space and missile defense soldiers today.
- Build future force capabilities for tomorrow.
- Look at emerging technologies for the future.
Cristina Chaplain, Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), spoke about the challenges the DoD faces when it runs its own space programs. She mentioned how these problems are now different from five or six years ago, because the programs are now in their production phases, as opposed to the earlier development phases. Disaggregation – dispersing missions, functions and sensors across multiple systems and platforms – was also something highlighted by Ms. Chaplain in her testimony.
In summary, here are the key points from the hearing:
- The United States’ advantage in space is no longer a given. The ever-evolving space environment is increasingly contested as potential adversary capabilities grow both in number and in sophistication.
- The Army was the largest user of space capabilities for the DoD.
- With regard to disaggregation, the GAO reported that while its prior work had shown that disaggregation concepts could potentially reduce costs and development time, the DoD did not yet have the knowledge necessary to make a transition to disaggregation on a wide scale.
- The GAO believes that more analysis about disaggregation was important because it could have far reaching effects, and because there were challenges to its implementation.
- Gen. Shelton stated that he was concerned about the safety of all orbits due to increased counter-space capabilities.
- Gen. Shelton noted that the Air Force was moving forward with a weather system follow-on program, which will be a small satellite that satisfies unique DoD requirements. In addition, Gen. Shelton noted that the DoD will count on NOAA, international and commercial partners to provide the rest of the data needed to round out its weather picture.
As shown by the discussion at this hearing, American space policy is at a critical stage. There is growing consensus around the most important priorities, and the need for new, innovative solutions to maintain U.S. supremacy in space. It’s an exciting time to be in the satellite industry, playing an increasing role in strengthening our nation’s security.