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Will Commercial Operators Play a Greater Role in US Milspace Future?

While the Department of Defense’s (DoD) space programs and policies are at something of a crossroads right now, plenty of government and industry leaders have been thinking deeply on what to do next.

While the Department of Defense’s (DoD) space programs and policies are at something of a crossroads right now, plenty of government and industry leaders have been thinking deeply on what to do next.

“Consistent with some of the comments that you’ve heard recently from some of our senior [military] leaders, we’re moving forward toward a normalization of space as a war-fighting domain,” says U.S. Air Force Colonel and Deputy Director of Space Programs Sidney Conner at “The Future of Military Space: Next Generation Requirements” panel at SATELLITE 2017 on Tuesday. “That entails thinking differently about how we train our operators ... That means better integrating across the DoD and intelligence community. And that means thinking differently about how we acquire our systems.”

Cyrus Dhalla, vice president of communications at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, meanwhile offers a multi-pronged vision for what he believes should come next, speaking from a private sector perspective. He says the best way forward for the industry is to leverage existing technologies to increase the affordability of the space system, to move to an architectural modernization that allows for “a consistent, constant acquisition structure where we’re constantly building satellites. Dhalla also stressed the importance of analyzing asymmetric threats to the system and increasing overall interoperability.

John Monahan, senior vice president of satellite products at Kratos Defense stressed the importance of the commercial sector for the future of military space.

“I’m going to take a NewSpace party line here … go commercial,” Monahan says. “You don’t need a unique way of satisfying your requirements, per se. It’s good enough to go commercial, you get it across effectively, you get it quickly … From my perspective, buy commercial, live with what you’re going to produce. Don’t bring a big stack of papers that says here’s what you should do, and you might see more bang for your buck if you proceed NewSpace that way.”

Monahan once even drew a “here here” from a couple audience members as he joked about how many times he felt he’d brought up his commercial-solution emphasis. “It’s a different way of doing business that allows you to get things more quickly and more cost-effective,” he says. “The other part would be innovation …we spend millions each year within R&D … The best way for us to advance as a product company is to go ahead and put our own products out of business every 18 to 24 months. We’ve got to have a seamless way of integrating that new technology.”

Jeffrey Trauberman, vice president of Space, Intelligence and Missile Defense Systems at Boeing Satellite Systems International suggested the approach of looking at space as a domain and then looking at other domains to find analogies with which to help solve problems. There’s maybe a menu of choices you can look at to solve these problems … threats, mitigation strategies, architectures,” Trauberman says.

Many of the audience questions at the military space panel focused on response to turnover in the federal government and how that affects the government and industry as they move forward.

“I think we’ve dealt with this before. I think that our focus is on taking a careful look at what works and what doesn’t,” says Conner. “We looked at what the Air Force is doing right now in space acquisition and we see a strong track record of success. Over a 14-year period … we successfully launched 104 successful systems. In the last year we’ve had seven or eight missions alone … Across the board we’re doing a lot of work. What we want to do is not rest on our laurels and look at areas where we see our system can be more responsive … but we don’t want to break what we’re doing that does make sense and has been successful.” VS