Integrated military-commercial satellite architecture taking shape

WASHINGTON — Budgetary stability will go a long way toward realizing an integrated U.S. military satellite communications architecture that seamlessly blends government and commercial capabilities, according to industry leaders.

While the Department of Defense (DoD) and industry have made solid progress toward that long-sought goal in recent years, there is still a ways to go, these officials said. One thing the government can do in this regard is provide a steady source of dedicated funding in annual defense budgets for commercial satellite services and integration activities, they said.

Pete Hoene, president and chief executive officer of SES Government Solutions, a subsidiary of satellite owner-operator SES, noted that Congress has established a budgetary line item that purpose but suggested the money has yet to start flowing.

“That’s going to make a huge difference, because once it’s funded it’s real,” Hoene said during a luncheon panel discussion on the topic hosted by the Washington Space Business Roundtable.

Traditionally the U.S. military has procured commercial satellite capacity using emergency wartime, or Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), funds, rather than through a dedicated account item in the regular DoD budget. As a result, the industry has had difficulty predicting funding levels for any given year, complicating satellite fleet planning and investment.

“Ultimately we have to get out of the OCO budget and into procurement” and research and development dollars, said Skot Butler, president of Intelsat General, the government services arm of satellite operator Intelsat.

Addressing the audience prior to the panel discussion, Lt. Gen. David Thompson, vice commander of Air Force Space Command, said work is nearly complete on a strategic plan for military satellite communications that takes into account government and commercial capabilities.

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Official portrait – Lt. Gen. David Thompson taken in the Air Force portrait studio, April 13, 2018, Pentagon. (U.S. Air Force photo by Wayne A. Clark)

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