Last month, Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI, 8th District), chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee, authored an opinion piece in Space News about procuring commercial satellite services. He argued for the urgent need to change this process to save money, but more importantly, to protect our armed forces. XTAR strongly supports the Congressman’s ideas and his leadership in championing this critical issue.
XTAR, along with several other commercial satellite operators, has worked for years to inform Congress of the inefficiency in DoD’s satellite communications acquisition practices. As Rep. Roger’s notes, the USAF has seen dramatic growth in COMSATCOM use since 9/11. Unfortunately, DoD pays top dollar for these vital services because they are contracted on a year-by-year basis. Currently, the DoD is not permitted to contract for COMSATCOM for any longer term than this. By comparison, other COMSATCOM users who acquire services under contracts ranging from 5-15 year terms generally benefit from more reasonable prices. The DoD’s imprudent COMSATCOM procurement practice ultimately hits the taxpayer’s wallet. By pursuing some of the Better Buying 2.0 [link] suggestions offered by trusted commercial satellite providers, these costs could be significantly mitigated – while ensuring our warfighters are fully equipped with the communications they require to do their mission.
Congress, and specifically Rep. Rogers, recognizes that this lack of a long-term procurement policy and a strategic plan to acquire COMSATCOM will also degrade U.S. national security. DoD and Congress must work together with industry to define and implement better COMSATCOM procurement and acquisition approaches to ensure our armed forces are prepared to conduct successful missions anywhere in the world. Cooperation with commercial satellite providers, who offer the latest technology at lower costs to DoD, is essential to instituting alternative and more efficient COMSATCOM acquisition policy. Decisions made in closed-door sessions without public comment from the commercial industry may fall short of real change.
The recent passage of the NDAA for FY2014 affirms that Congress views industry as its partner in this vital change process. The law includes specific language for buying long term, requiring the DoD to plan for the future and be more cost effective in its COMSATCOM acquisition practices. In Rep. Rogers’ words, “A smarter acquisition program for these services is not just good business sense, it’s a critical imperative that will allow us to stretch scarce defense resources at a time when space is more important and more threatened by America’s adversaries and competitors.” We could not agree more.
DoD COMSATCOM acquisition reform is a complicated subject, even without the current acquisition process that stands in the way. Driven by budget concerns – having to cut budget spend in the face of sequestration and other economic factors that are reducing the money available to DoD – the question is this: Can DoD continue to support its long-standing status quo dependence on “owned” military capabilities? Particularly when advanced, cost-effective commercial capability is readily available, and operators have consistently demonstrated their willingness to engage with DoD on better buying practices that would result in huge and immediate savings.
Undersecretary of Defense Kendall’s direct and unequivocal speech at the Satellite 2013 Conference in Washington last year was the first real indicator that things might be changing, and changing fast. For over a decade of sporadic discourse, hundreds of meetings at numerous levels of the Pentagon, DISA, SMC, Air Force Space Command, and even the Hill, the commercial satellite operators have strived to understand the next step for DoD. Where does the DoD need us to be, and what will they need when we get there?
This decade of ambitious talk, mixed messages and (ultimately) inaction has been deeply frustrating, and at times, a roller coaster ride for industry. Occasionally we gained significant traction with a set of folks in one department or other, only to have that effort shelved as Generals and Staff officers were promoted and moved on. More often than not, they were replaced by others who needed educating from a starting point we had passed years before. Alternatively, our military contacts saw change as a “bridge too far” and chose to focus on things they could control, within their own scope of authority. Or, one might be forgiven for thinking, within their comfort level.
This is perhaps one of the most frustrating issues when dealing with DoD – the lack of a single point of authority on SATCOM matters. Aside from the ever-changing rotation of military personnel into and out of posts critical to making well-informed, long-term decisions on the scope and scale of the MILSATCOM/COMSATCOM architecture, there are simply too many cooks in the DoD SATCOM kitchen. Twenty different Agencies, Commands or Departments can halt, pause, deflect, change or otherwise prevent progress on any particular solution where it appears remotely possible or imminent. Not a single one has the authority to say “yes, we can!”
“The system was designed this way,” I’ve heard over and over. I’m the first to argue that industry cannot have undue influence, and I firmly believe in a level playing field for all companies who bid on Defense work – that’s a given. BUT, like our expectations of the current Congress, there is still a job to be done, and it must be done right. Avoiding this issue is akin to the proverbial head in the sand approach. Industry has repeatedly offered viable cost-effective solutions for delivering significant COMSATCOM capability to meet the needs and requirements of our warfighters, where and when they need it. It is essential that we remove the barriers to getting this done. Government/industry collaboration is the surest way of doing that.
Commercial satellite operators are – and have always been – prepared to invest more in their systems and to build satellites with features the DoD claims are important. We are willing to spend however many hours are required collaborating with DoD, to develop structures that encourage and enable us to invest in clearly defined DoD SATCOM requirements, and to incorporate specific technology features the DoD considers operationally advantageous. It is time to move from the comfort of the old ways of (not) doing something, to affirmatively meeting the SATCOM technology challenges of the 21st Century. Our warfighters deserve no less. Our taxpayers demand it.
I recently participated in the annual Hosted Payload Summit here in Washington, D.C. The critical issue of security for government users of hosted payloads was top of everyone’s mind. These users will not deploy their sensitive and critical applications on hosted payloads if they feel that cyber-security measures have not been well defined and successfully implemented. A lack of cyber and overall security could disable capabilities across the globe if unfriendly nations acted to create such chaos. I share these concerns.
XTAR has firsthand experience managing security issues on both sides of the hosted payload relationship. We host a payload on XTAR-EUR at 29 E.L. designed as back-up for the Spanish Ministry of Defense services and we operate a hosted payload on the Spainsat satellite at 30 W.L. Given this unique perspective, we can cite several factors that are essential to achieving security for government missions via hosted payloads.
By their very nature, hosted payloads can increase security for government missions by creating Resiliency and Disaggregation. These terms have become industry buzzwords because they are critical aspects of secure hosted payloads. Let me explain:
- Resiliency is the ability of a system architecture to continue to provide required capabilities in the face of system failures, environmental challenges and adversarial threats.
- Disaggregation is the dispersion of space-based missions, functions or sensors across multiple systems spanning one or more orbital planes, platforms, hosts or domains.
Hosted payloads can be used to achieve resiliency through disaggregation. The DoD can create an architecture that is much more challenging to disrupt by dispersing its payloads on multiple commercial satellites in orbit. Because its more difficult and complex to degrade, disruptions are minimized and adversaries are deterred. In the event of interference, the overall effect is mitigated by maintaining the functionality through the other space assets in the constellation.
The security of hosted payloads for government use must also be addressed on an end-to-end architecture level, including both ground and space segments. This will require continued discussions and coordination with industry by the government, especially the continued development of IP encryption standards. It is essential that these standards meet the broad range of government requirements so that encryption on commercial spacecraft will work seamlessly with the primary and hosted payloads as well as terrestrial infrastructure.
Finally, in this era of shrinking government budgets, security requirements for hosted payloads must be addressed in a manner that is not cost prohibitive, or the hosted payload model will die on the vine. There is plenty of evidence coming from both industry and various studies within DoD that suggest that industry can provide these capabilities cost-effectively. Given the opportunity to provide its services to the Government, industry has displayed its willingness and aptitude to use commercial business model economics to meet stringent security requirements.
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.
General William L. Shelton, Air Force Space Command, in recent remarks described DoD’s current spending on space programs of record as “locked in” until the mid-2020s. Concluding DoD is locked into the current spending path without viable alternatives for ten or more years belies the many good reform efforts of other parties. These include the DoD’s Sec. Kendall; the Defense Business Board; industry recommendations such as our Suggestions for Better Buying Power paper, and even Congress’ recent inquiry by the Senate Armed Services Committee into the right mix of commercial-to-military bandwidth. Based on building tensions in the Asia Pacific region – and the DoD’s escalating pivot to Asia – it is critical that we plan for better, smarter buying. We need to get this effort done right, and get it right now. (more…)
The Senate Armed Services Committee recently requested five-, 10-, and 25-year strategic plans from DoD for the appropriate blend of military and commercial satellite bandwidth. Presumably, the committee is seeking cost-avoidance in the present and cost-savings in the long run. I have not actually seen any attempt at this type of comparison for several years. Industry is eager to prove its value and capabilities, but DoD has not been forthcoming in releasing all its raw costs for accurate comparison.
Unless the Committee requires an apples-to-apples comparison of the costs involved in defining such a military/commercial bandwidth strategy, any supposed comparison of the aggregate cost will be meaningless. (more…)
The discussion in ANALYSIS: Avoiding the China Comsat Trap by Ben Iannotta in Deep Dive Intelligence, June 17, 2013, on the debate revolving around the DoD’s recent purchase of satellite capacity from a Chinese company, helps to focus on the key issue: the U.S. military buys commercial satellite bandwidth with a process that inevitably increases costs and that supposes commercial providers will have a perennial supply of capacity for the military.
XTAR applauds efforts from OSD to engage trusted commercial satellite operators who have supported the military for years. Through true collaboration – where both parties are in close dialogue during planning and execution – we can change acquisition policy into a sensible and sustainable long-term buying process. The DoD will finally enjoy well-planned, cost-effective and high utility commercial satellite resources.
Let’s make this a reality for our warfighters and our national security.
The recent vilification of the use of a Chinese satellite to fulfill a U.S. DoD operational communications requirement in Africa is not surprising. Intuitively, using a satellite owned and controlled by a country whose policies and actions are in direct opposition to those of the U.S. does not make sense. Congressman John Garamendi of the House Armed Service Committee stated, very clearly, that we must “remain vigilant in protecting our communications data.”
Domestic commercial satellite operators who support the DoD, including XTAR, have made significant investments in Information Assurance (IA) capabilities dictated by DISA and DoD. We have been working tremendously hard to ensure that we take the highest precautions to allay Congressman Garamendi’s justified concerns. Commercial operators have incurred significant out-of-pocket costs to implement the IA standards dictated by the DoD without any commitment of future contracts. We have also been trying to resurrect the Mission Assurance Working Group (MAWG) to collaborate with the DoD to better manage operational data and to respond to external threats to mission capabilities. Also, several commercial operators in the industry have also been working with the DoD to suggest mechanisms for them to become more efficient buyers of commercial space capabilities – see our “Seven Ways” paper issued a few months ago.
Proponents of wholly government-owned satellite systems are using this Chinese issue to reinforce their arguments for buying more systems like WGS to fulfill military needs, rather than relying on commercial space segment. But it doesn’t have to be an either/or scenario: Either buy more WGS birds or rely on Chinese satellites to fulfill our military’s satellite communications needs. (more…)
Each time a new WGS satellite is launched, it strikes me to read the media coverage. I find it nearly always includes quotes from DoD representatives claiming that WGS has 10 times the capacity of a DSCS satellite, or that WGS is the DOD’s highest capacity communications satellite system. These claims, while technically accurate, are misleading and not relevant in today’s world of high-throughput satellites and constrained budgets. Widely reported and sometimes without deeper investigation, they detract from the real issue: WGS does not offer now, nor will the planned constellation when fully deployed, the same throughput and capacity which can be gained on many commercial satellites.
There are plenty of examples of media coverage like this – some new, some old. Let’s put aside the fact that, as far as survivability, WGS satellites are, in important ways, less capable than the DSCS system they are replacing. DSCS birds are hardened against nuclear attack while their WGS “replacements” have no greater capability to resist such attacks than any COMSATCOM satellite.
Instead, let’s focus on bandwidth. Designed in 1995 with only minor updates to its capabilities since then, each WGS satellite is reported to provide at least 2.4 Gbps of throughput to the warfighter via its X- and Ka-band payloads – for a combined total of 1.5 GHz of space segment capacity. (I’ll be generous and accept WGS proponents’ throughput claims even when USAF personnel themselves report disappointing results in actual throughputs achieved.) This WGS performance pales in comparison to a typical COMSATCOM satellite launched within the last ten years! (more…)
This article, Space Attacks: Technology And Contracting Shifts May End Market Dominance by Aaron Mehta in C4ISR Digital Edition, May 31, 2013, highlights the key issues that DoD is tackling—how to lower costs while creating a more resilient architecture. Disaggregation through hosted payloads is one approach that will help the Department create the strong, secure, affordable satellite capability needed for the future. The hosted payload model will bring critical force-enabling technology to the front line warfighter both quickly and efficiently using the economies and investments of commercial satellite operators who have long supported DOD and advocated for a permanent role in the architecture to provide distributed capability and resilience. This includes XTAR whose sole mission is to support the Government user. The issue, as correctly identified by General Shelton, is institutional inertia, the “naysayers” who want the status quo to remain unchanged. Embrace the future! Those who do will be better placed to take advantage of the terrific capabilities and technology offered by the commercial satellite operator community.