WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force has issued a draft of a long-awaited solicitation for commercial satellite capacity covering western Africa, a demonstration that industry officials hope is an indication of the Defense Department’s willingness to break buying habits that they say are outdated and inefficient.

The draft solicitation follows a formal request for information the Air Force released last September. For industry officials skeptical about the Air Force’s willingness to change its bandwidth buying practices, the draft request for proposals issued March 7 provides reassurance the COMSATCOM Pathfinder demonstration program is moving forward.

Commercial satellite executives carefully tracking the program said the request also marks the first time the Air Force Space and Missiles Systems Center (SMC) in Los Angeles has issued a request for commercial satellite communications services, which typically are procured by Defense Information Systems Agency.

In a March 7 posting on the Federal Business Opportunities website, SMC said it is searching on behalf of U.S. Africa Command for a geostationary-orbiting satellite with multiple transponders available to lease for the remainder of the satellite’s life. Industry has until March 17 to provide responses to the draft solicitation.

Mike Gruss covers military space issues, including the U.S. Air Force and Missile Defense Agency, for SpaceNews. He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.