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Space Architecture: Commercial Investment Requires Commitment from DoD

In recent years, DoD has been concerned about the “vulnerability” of commercial spacecraft and has imposed Information Assurance (IA) criteria onto satellite operators. DoD is now discussing what they see as a significant lack of “protection features” such as anti-jam capabilities, beam-forming technologies and other items that might make commercial satellites look more like military satellites, and thus be more attractive to military users. Most commercial satellite operators are in favor of adding these capabilities to our future spacecraft, but we have yet to formulate a successful business case for doing so without a pledge from DoD that these efforts will be rewarded.

If industry made the investment, would DoD give preference to satellite operators that have these advanced features? Or, like the use of a Chinese satellite to cover a DoD mission in North Africa a couple of years ago, would DoD select a less expensive satellite when they want low prices? If satellite operators spent millions of dollars on these protection features, would DoD be willing to spend 5% to 20% more for the capacity? Or would lowest price, technically acceptable still rule? Not much of an incentive to commercial satellite operators really!

The missing link here is an overall DoD space architecture. What is the DoD approach to the future? Are they going to build 40-50 commercial-like satellites to fill their needs internally? Or are they going to rely on commercial to help fulfill their needs when deployed across the globe? Without an architecture, the commercial operators have no reason to think of DoD as a collaborator, and DoD actions are often those of an unreliable partner. Having an architecture would give the commercial operators more certainty about their future relationship with DoD. This, in turn, would encourage the commercial operators to consider their next investment choices with DoD more seriously. Isn’t that what DoD wants?

Like my fellow executives in the satellite industry that have a primary focus on supporting DoD and their missions, I am following the Pathfinder initiatives with great interest. Designed to test the standard contracting methods, and to “see what can be achieved,” these initiatives – five to six are planned over the next couple of years – aim to challenge the status quo. Commercial SATCOM is currently purchased in an inefficient manner, ends up costing more per unit, and meets only the minimum requirements as set out in each task order. If DoD were to outline an architecture for their future needs, commercial operators would have the opportunity to produce a quality product in a cost effective manner to the benefit of DoD.