The creation of the U.S. Space Force was a response to the growing use of space by more nations around the globe – and the potential threat that some pose to that use. At the same time, a military branch that consolidates the operations and acquisitions of space-based capabilities creates a scenario for closer, more efficient cooperation between the military and the commercial satcom sectors that promises a win-win for the warfighter.
The U.S. military has a successful history of employing space-based assets to its advantage, but operations are spread among the different services. This process can create competing customer requirements, as well as multiple acquisition pathways that create delays and frustrate both suppliers and users. The Space Force was established in December as the sixth branch of the United States Armed Forces “to stay ahead of the competition,” a Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) Portfolio Architect, says. “Space gives us such a competitive advantage in not only military might, but in every day American life, that other nations, including our adversaries, are trying to replicate as well as find ways to deny or possibly destroy.”
The Space Force will be tasked with organizing, training and equipping space forces, and providing space capabilities to the entire military. Consolidating these responsibilities under a single entity is seen as the path to streamline operations and acquisitions of all military space systems. “They are trying to get people behind the Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) satellites and commercial satcom thinking about the same things, in the same timeline, and in the same manner,” says Brad Grady, a principal analyst for NSR. “Then they want to expand to [Mobile User Objective System] MUOS or specific government capabilities. They want this all under the same umbrella — just the same way you would expect a commercial entity to operate. If nothing else, if they can acquire new space systems and field new space capabilities faster than before, then they’ve accomplished the first goals they set out to do.”
The U.S. military has been integrating commercial satellites into its operations for decades, and providing the commercial space sector a single point of focus going forward is seen as another long-term positive. “The whole idea is leadership directly responsible for space,” says Shaun McDougall an analyst for Forecast International. “This could have big sway in terms of acquisition and advocating for budgets.”
Previous Air Force budgets have laid out space-related spending, but the request submitted in February by the Department of the Air Force included for the first time a dedicated Space Force request of $15.4 billion.
“The Space Force will still be tasked with building out the systems it was already charged to build. However, past budgeting practices have been optimized towards individual programs and fixed requirements in closed architectures,” SMC said in a written statement that accompanied the budget request. “Moving forward, we’ll need to adapt our budget framework to support a dynamic approach to managing requirements in a ‘system of systems’ rather than individual programs. The need to redirect funding and rapidly start new projects in response to evolving threats and changing requirements will present a significant challenge given established [U.S. Department of Defense] DoD budget procedures. We’re currently working with the Pentagon and external stakeholders to identify budget policy initiatives that provide the speed and agility to adapt, while preserving oversight, insight and accountability for results.”
The standing up of the Space Force also comes at a time when the innovation pendulum looks to have swung away from the government and toward the commercial space sector, especially with recent advances in satellite development, launch services, and ground terminals. Closer integration with the commercial sector, beginning with system concepts and acquisition and running through lifecycle support, will be key in meeting the Space Force’s goals.
“In order to truly mitigate threats to our national interest, DoD needs to recognize that commercial integrates much faster [and] innovates faster than government through various planning initiatives, we’ve evolved,” says Jon Bennett, vice president of Government Affairs, Marketing and Corporate Communications for SES Government Solutions. “Milsat is deemed to be more resilient, but I’m not sure that’s the case anymore. The U.S. government has integrated us to provide resilient capability that resides in enterprise architecture.” The standing up of the Space Force is the opportunity to make government-commercial cooperation easier.
Government satellites will continue to serve as the “backbone” of the Space Force’s systems, but leadership recognizes the innovation taking place and wants to increase the use of commercial solutions to augment or reinforce the entire network. In February, Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond, signed the USSF Vision for Enterprise Satellite Communications, intended to “enhance integration between the military and private sectors, with a goal to enable warfighters with the ability to transition between their networks and terminals to alternate resources with little or no disruption.”
Now that the private sector has matured, there is an opportunity to apply the more agile development processes and funding mechanisms of the commercial market to military acquisitions for the benefit of the warfighter, says Ken Peterman, president, Government Systems for Viasat. “When inventing these systems, no single company had the breadth to be a turnkey systems solutions provider,” he says. “Now that the technology has crossed over, companies like Viasat are really aggressively accelerating that trajectory,” referring to innovation seen in the company’s Viasat satellites, which have moved from offering capacity of 140 gigabits per second with Viasat-1, to 260 Gbps with Viasat-2, and jumping to 1 terabit of total network capacity with Viasat-3.
“Consolidation of much of the decision authority in a central place reflects the recognition that the private sector is accelerating these capabilities and bringing them faster and more affordably than ever before. They don’t have to invent DoD-specific solutions through a time-consuming and expensive labor process,” Peterman says.
The embrace of more modern acquisition practices will help the Space Force incorporate the latest commercial innovations in a timelier manner, says Rebecca Cowen-Hirsh, senior vice president for Government Strategy and Policy at Inmarsat Government. Satcom-as-a-Service (Saas) “has emerged as the satellite acquisition model for the modern age, enabling access to mission-critical, reliable connectivity,” she says. “Designed for global mobility, it provides a critical end-to-end communications infrastructure that is owned and managed by a single, trusted, commercial operator and includes the space and ground segments, as well as type-approved terminals that deliver globally-available and seamless connectivity. It makes possible the acquisition of the latest satellite industry innovations that are designed for every aspect of military on-the-move missions — from [Internet of Things] IoT to high-throughput data and video distribution for highly mobile platforms.”
For the warfighter, SaaS will provide a mobile wideband experience that’s no different from moving around the globe with a cell phone, without stopping to worry about where the cell phone towers are, who installed them, and who wired everything together. “The precedent has been set for similar business models already employed within the defense community for telecommunications and other complex information technology and communication services,” Cowen-Hirsch says.
This holistic approach can also help eliminate problems that have been created in the acquisition of the ground segments for satellite programs, Grady says. “The Air Force has done a good job of acquiring satellites and launching them and running them. But where most of the systems have had problems is in the ground segments. Hopefully, one of the big outcomes of the Space Force will be to get all those pieces aligned – [Tracking, Telemetry and Command] TT&C operating on a well-defined structure, the spacecraft layer being developed using best of breed, and ground level being fielded at the same time. Then people at the tip of the spear can take advantage of all the capabilities that we’ve invested in. Bringing that program view is one of the first advantages. Get that right and they’ve solved 90% of the problems out there.”
Phil Carrai, president of Space, Training, & Cyber Division, for ground segment provider Kratos, agrees. “There’s an enormous drive we see in certain programs to roam across constellations and across commercial and military satcom. This is difficult when you have different frequencies, different waveforms, and different form factors for the terminal that were created by a stovepipe approach to acquisition. Now that technology moving to the point where you can look at different form factors, but we have a common infrastructure that handles different waveforms and frequencies across this variety of form factors. That should be a big advantage of the Space Force,” he says.
Understanding the true impact the Space Force will have on military operations and the commercial sector is difficult to forecast at the moment, Grady says. “Whether this becomes a new significant branch, we may not know until a 100 years from now. Right now, we just want space to have a place of higher importance. These are the space folks. If you are doing space, you talk to them first.”
Distributed Capability Will Improve Cybersecurity Protection
The U.S. military wants to create “a resilient battle network that connects ships, ground forces, planes and satellites to fight together at speeds far surpassing any adversary.” One of the biggest challenges will be protecting such a vast network from cyberattacks.
“The history of computing has demonstrated that as systems expand or become more interconnected and complex, the cybersecurity challenge will increase,” said a Space and Missile Systems Center, Portfolio Architect. “The space domain is no different, but the increased capabilities and assets can also provide platforms to address the same challenges.”
Integration of commercial satellites as nodes into the network will serve as an important part of both providing this global network as well as protecting the overall system, executives said. Viasat in 2016 demonstrated a hybrid space architecture that enables a single platform to roam among commercial satellites operated by different providers, switch to military-built satellites, and also switch frequency bands. “Since then, we have progressed even further. We have customers today that have the capability to roam among commercial and military satellites and able to integrate different waveforms and networks that use different ground infrastructures,” said Viasat’s Peterman.
This approach fits in with the military’s plans for overall network resiliency, said Forecast’s McDougall. “The military is trying to push redundancy and distributed capability, especially in a pure conflict with a big, focused adversary. You don’t want to be stuck if a satellite gets knocked out. They want redundancy to fall back on.”
Technology advancement in the commercial sector will also play a role in securing the network, said SES’s Bennett. SES is the only commercial operator with satellites in both GEO and MEO orbits, and the company’s next-generation O3b mPOWER fleet will enhance the ability of the government customers to operate in a multi-domain setting. The new satellites, set to begin reaching orbit in 2021, will be much more resilient, he said. “We’ve identified ways to incorporate some of the requirements that the U.S. government has deemed most important to achieve 80 to 90 percent resiliency in our platforms. ... The military has been at the forefront of being more resilient, but now with mPOWER coming on board, we’re right there.” VS