Will Budget Issues Make the DoD a Better Buyer of Commercial SATCOM?

Sequestration, the government shutdown and continuing budget resolutions are pushing the Air Force and the Pentagon to re-examine how they fund the national space programs.

Fortunately, long-time industry partners have proposed effective solutions for countering these challenges, which include disaggregation of space capabilities onto multiple platforms or systems, government hosted payloads on commercial satellites, and acquisition reform to allow the Department of Defense (DoD) customer to buy SATCOM more efficiently.

These are a few of the takeaways from a recent Space News interview with Todd Harrison, Senior Fellow, Defense Budget Studies, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), who discussed how DoD budget abnormalities are here to stay and how we need new solutions to best meet military mission goals.  Be sure to check out our previous post about the CSBA’s vision for the future of military SATCOM here.

Harrison also discussed Gen. William Shelton, Commander of Air Force Space Command, and his recent commentary about how sequestration will “break every program.”  According to Harrison, Gen. Shelton’s perspective is highly valid because it does not take too much to derail a space program, since timelines and budgets are typically very tight.

All of these insights point to the fact that we need to make the DoD a better buyer of commercial SATCOM.

Earlier this year, executives from several of the leading commercial satellite firms – including Intelsat General – developed seven practical steps that would allow the DoD to save money, while ensuring reliable access to commercial SATCOM services.

Some of these key steps include collaboration with industry to optimize the existing space architecture to include commercial systems.  This will allow commercial operators to plan how best to accommodate the DoD’s long-term SATCOM requirements.

In addition, industry members are recommending that the military move away from high-cost leasing on the spot market and instead lease services on a long-term basis.  The Defense Business Board, which is part of the DoD and provides independent advice on the private sector’s perspective on best business practices, cited how this could result in a potential savings of $100 million per year.

Hosted payloads can also help save money, fill critical gaps in capabilities, and accelerate program timing.  Costs are reduced through sharing of infrastructure, which was demonstrated by the Australian Ministry of Defence, who saved more than $150 million by using Intelsat’s recently-launched IS-22 satellite to host a UHF hosted payload.

Finally, the DoD designs, builds and launches military satellites with capabilities that often overlap with or are incompatible with existing commercial networks.   By working closely together on the space architecture Industry can help anticipate and invest in solutions that will bridge this gap.

Without a doubt, we are operating in a time of intense budget uncertainty.  The need for the right military SATCOM capabilities will remain, if not increase, while resources will be stretched.  Thankfully, industry members are providing the right procurement insights that will allow our military to continue meeting satellite mission goals and requirements, as well as maintain its worldwide technology leadership.

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