Before investing in new satellite programs, the U.S. Air Force should see whether it can reduce duplication and find efficiencies in its ground-based satellite control infrastructure, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Wherever possible, ground systems should be built to support multiple satellite programs, the congressional watchdog agency said in a report released April 18. Entitled “Satellite Control: Long-Term Planning and Adoption of Commercial Practices Could Improve DOD’s Operation,” the report said moving to common ground control systems could allow for increased automation and use of off-the-shelf products.
“Air Force satellite program officials are currently free to choose the satellite control network type that best suits their program without needing to justify that choice,” the report says. “Without the requirement to weight potential compromises in performance with potential reductions in cost, most new programs are choosing to build a dedicated network.”
The report cites one Air Force base with 10 satellite programs operated by eight different control centers as an example.
The Air Force has budgeted about $400 million over the next five years to modernize these systems, the report says. But those upgrades would not include any additional capabilities, it says.
The Air Force should consider a common control network, much like those used in the commercial sector, the report said, adding that the Pentagon has no long-term plan for managing the costs of satellite control operations.
The suggested changes are nothing new. Government and space industry executives have suggested similar changes for more than a decade, the report says.
“Although there is ample evidence that these leading commercial practices could generate cost savings and improve efficiency, the Air Force has generally not implemented these practices,” the report reads.