Military Modernization Experts Push for Innovation, Collaboration, and Risk Taking

As SATELLITE 2020 kicked off, with many in the industry basking in the excitement around commercial space activities, military space stakeholders — including U.S. government agencies and non-government organizations — spoke at length about bringing technology and policies up to speed.

But truly modernizing military space will require a new level of innovation, collaboration and cooperation among vendors, government agencies and others in the space and satellite industry, said panelists at a Monday morning session at SATELLITE 2020, held at the Washington D.C. Convention Center.

To do this, industry and government need stakeholders need to roll out policies and practices to support innovation, suggested panelist Joshua Huminski, Director, National Security Space Program, Center for The Study of the Presidency and Congress.

“We need to look at the question of, ‘How do we integrate our capabilities?’” Huminski told attendees during the “Modernizing Military Space” session. “With the absence of a clear threat environment we’ve treated space like a benign enterprise. There hasn’t been really the need to innovate.”

Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch, senior vice president of Government Policy and Strategy at Inmarsat Government, stressed the important role of organizations like hers in supporting the military in taking smarter risks. Inmarsat owns and operates a global portfolio of satellite networks.

“Since the commercial industry is such a predominant player in space …. it’s important to appreciate what that means in terms of a new a new type of partnership between commercial and government,” said we’re advocating for funding and resources and talent for guiding a new military service … to develop and deploy and plan for space capabilities.”

According to Cowen-Hirsch, key areas of interest for the mobility communications industry is how the U.S. government buys satellites communication services, as well as how the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) forges new and evolving partnerships with commercial and Allies will be informative of how business relationships will change as a result.

Panelist Doug Schroeder, oversight executive for the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, seemed to agree with concerns that military space activities are lagging behind commercial activities, while noting that there are more opportunities than ever for the right enterprises to have a role in shaping a more modern military space.

Schroeder said that his agency is actively seeking white papers for technologies such as line-of-sight and laser that will help foster future communications.

“We’re working to ensure terrestrial and space networks are going to connect seamlessly,” he said. “Our technical leadership … may be as competent a [team] of experts as I’ve ever seen.”

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy at the U.S. Department of Defense, Stephen Kitay, pointed out several ways the U.S. government is fostering military space activities: In addition to launching and strengthening agencies devoted to space development — including the U.S. Space Force, U.S. Space Command, and the Space Development Agency — the FY 2020 budget earmarked $300 million for new technologies, and is working with international allies such as Japan to collaborate on defense projects.

Kitay also highlighted ongoing reform activities at Space and Missile Systems Center and the Space Rapid Capabilities Office.

“This is a process, an evolution, but I would say, there is change and change is happening,” said Kitay. “I agree we have more to do, but this is a start. We need to use these new organizations as a catalyst for new thinking. We do have a great budget we put forth on Capitol Hill with many billions of dollars and new ways of thinking.”

Yet while panelists all rhapsodized the importance of innovation, they also acknowledged huge challenges that could potentially slow down military space spending, development and success.

One of the biggest challenges is the lack of awareness among U.S. Congress as well as everyday citizens on the important role of space communications in military presence and everyday life. Because so much military information is classified, the DoD and other agencies face a difficult task of sharing just enough information to raise a flag, but not too much so as to compromise security.

“We have clearly drunk the Kool-Aid,” Cowen-Hirsch joked. “So, it is in our inherent interest to make sure we can protect [our assets] and continue to provide services globally to all of our customers… across a number of different environments, including contested environments. We need to continue to improve our partnerships and effective exchange of information.”

Huminski said has helped to improving awareness of space and satellite’s importance by talking about the role of satellite technology in influencing real-life decisions, from preparing for a tornado to meeting a potential love match on a dating app.

“We work to educate [Congress] but the problem is space is very far away,” said Huminski. “There’s also a declassification challenge around information. But if we don’t understand, ‘What are the threats out there?’ we won’t have a very productive conversation.” VS

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