By Warren Ferster

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — U.S. Air Force space officials are developing an overarching military satellite communications strategy that takes into account both government and commercial capabilities, and expect to have it ready for release before the end of the year.

The plan also will address potential demonstrations, or pathfinders, that the Air Force has used in the past to prove out new procurement and utilization concepts for commercial satellite capacity, said Air Force Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) in Los Angeles and program executive officer for space. Traditionally, the Department of Defense (DoD) has procured commercial bandwidth under relatively short-term contracts, often on the spot market, which industry officials have long argued is inefficient and makes it difficult to plan for future military needs.

The strategy initiative follows the congressionally mandated transfer of responsibility for procuring commercial satellite capacity for military users from the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) to the Air Force. That transfer, which formally took effect in December 2018, responds to longstanding concerns about a lack of coordination between DISA and the Air Force, which buys and operates its own communications satellites.

In an April 9 keynote address at the 35th annual Space Symposium, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said the transfer will enable the service to take a holistic approach to the military satellite communications enterprise. “That [transfer] will be a tremendous help, as there is very clear synergy between commercial communications satellite capabilities and those of the Defense Department,” she said.

Thompson, in an April 11 media briefing along with other Air Force space procurement leaders at the Symposium, said the strategy now in development breaks down the stovepipes that have long existed between commercial and government-owned systems.

“We are working very closely with commercial satellite providers and our traditional military satellite communication providers to make that strategy happen,” Thompson said. “I would expect a formal rollout of that strategy later this year.”

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