The Urgency of Modernizing Satellite Control Infrastructure

The satellite infrastructure that the DoD relies on for operational awareness is inefficient and is badly in need of modernization. The status quo isn’t acceptable, and changes must begin now.

Those aren’t my words, although I agree with them strongly. It’s the message contained in a memorandum dated July 29th sent by General John Hyten, Commander of the U.S. Air Force Space Command, to senior subordinates. As reported in this recent story from Space News, emerging threats from other powers and budget constraints are prompting the DoD to leverage commercial efficiencies and to adopt a common ground infrastructure.

From the article:

Even our newest systems lack required resiliency and survivability,” Gen. John Hyten, commander of Space Command, said in a letter to senior subordinates. “We must retool our entire space architecture to one that can be commanded through a robust common platform.”

I’ve also reviewed the memo that the Space News article is based on. The July 29th direction should surprise no one, since it builds on the clear intent voiced by General Hyten in December of last year. In addition to greater resiliency and lower costs, the DoD is very interested in using uniformed personnel for battle management rather than for infrastructure maintenance.

The memo includes a great deal of specificity around where commercial capabilities can better support the mission. The Air Force Satellite Control Network (AFSCN) is one of the areas highlighted. (IGC was awarded a contract to study this handoff last year.) General Hyten wants to start using commercial capacity immediately, and eventually wants commercial networks to be a fully redundant backup for AFSCN.

The situation is similar with Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS). From General Hyten’s memo:

WGS offers an immediate opportunity to leverage commercial operations of the satellite constellations while maintaining uniformed execution of mission payloads. As previously directed, we should move WGS satellite bus operations to commercial operators performing satellite control (possibly from commercial facilities and with the commercial satellite control network), as soon as possible within contract constraints.”

Hyten also outlined priorities for the Air Force’s space operations and traffic management center, known as the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC), at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. He wants to evolve the JSpOC into a true space command and control system with contingency options at multiple locations. Hyten also wants JPpOC to be able to coordinate and control new, transformative Battle Management Command and Control (BMC2) capabilities.

Critical decisions need to be made now regarding the future of the U.S. space architecture. The challenges the country currently faces demand collaborative solutions with government and the commercial sector. General Hyten’s leadership in this area is gratifying, and we stand ready to assist.