Too Dependent on SATCOM?

The Washington Post published a very interesting story last week covering budget hearings on 2013 military space programs. Each branch of the military touted their own respective space programs – the Air Force talked AEHF, the Army WGS, the Navy MUOS. 

As promising as these programs truly are for the future, there are two important issues the military faces right now in space.

One problem the Post story covers well – the delays and cost overruns associated with military space programs. According to a GAO report released at the Armed Services subcommittee hearing, the costs for space programs 2011-2016 have ballooned by $11.6 billion (321 percent!) above initial cost estimates. And all the programs cited during the hearing are years behind schedule.

The other issue is the one apparently not discussed during the hearing by any of the services, and not in the story at all. That is the fact that commercial SATCOM provides by far the largest percentage of SATCOM bandwidth used by the military today. In fact, close to 90 percent of in-theater military satellite traffic rides on commercial satellite networks, not military.

Somehow this fact went undiscussed at the hearing. IGC President Kay Sears talked recently on this blog about the tendency for each service branch to “hunker down” and protect their programs in a tighter federal budget climate. Commercial SATCOM has supported the warfighter for years as the wait continues for these new military networks to be built, deployed and become operational.

Walter Pincus, the author of the Post story, closes his piece by wondering if the military has become too dependent on space. But that’s asking the wrong question. The elephant in the room is why the can’t the military branches fully accept commercial SATCOM as a vital, long-term part of the mix even as we wait for new military constellations to come online?