The working group tasked to accomplish Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics) Frank Kendall’s 90-Day Study on COMSATCOM acquisition reform appears to have veered off track. We are hearing reports that it will go no further with Mr. Kendall’s core assignment until it addresses the question of DoD “bandwidth utilization”. This tangential issue is effectively holding hostage the study’s main goal of improving the efficiency of commercial satcom acquisition and ensuring that DoD gets the best ROI from all its satcom. Examining how efficiently DoD employs the COMSATCOM bandwidth currently on lease is a distraction from the intended scope and objectives of the 90-Day Study.
As a taxpayer, I applaud DoD’s interest in getting the best available return on investment — no responsible business person wants to see our government waste money on space segment capacity or missiles, any more than on toilet paper. Certainly opportunities exist to squeeze out waste from DoD’s COMSATCOM and MILSATCOM resources, including bandwidth utilization. I believe I speak for the commercial COMSATCOM industry at large when I say we share DoD’s cost-cutting concerns; we are prepared to assist in achieving this objective. However, a discussion on utilization is secondary to the core acquisition reform assignment Mr. Kendall gave this working group. The primary task is to develop new acquisition models and establish a more efficient, elastic and cost-effective leasing system. Performed correctly – and swiftly – the work of this group will ultimately result in an improved COMSATCOM utilization equation. Which in turn will enhance the DoD’s ROI.
Unpredictability and variability are the hallmarks of DoD bandwidth requirements – and therefore its utilization. Attempts to study bandwidth utilization and leasing volume are quickly outdated. Case in point: Few in the industry predicted the exponential growth which resulted from AISR technologies like the wide-area surveillance sensor system “Gorgon Stare”. Certainly, no one predicted the spike in demand resulting from 9/11 – or the subsequent troop build ups in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So let’s get on with the task at hand. Kendall’s working group on COMSATCOM acquisition reform must not get sidetracked by peripheral issues. Maintaining focus on the assigned task is the only way the DoD can quickly and efficiently address inevitable changes in satcom demand – while delivering viable ROI for the taxpayers.