DoD ‘Wedded’ to Commercial Satellites, Lawmaker Assured

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WASHINGTON — During a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the military’s response to new technology, U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) did his bit to remain one of the commercial satellite industry’s favorite new lawmakers.

Bridenstine took advantage of one of the committee’s first hearings of the year to ping Pentagon acquisition czar Frank Kendall — and the three-star U.S. Air Force general testifying alongside him — about the Pentagon’s use of commercial communications satellites.

While Kendall had already spoken broadly about the importance of the Defense Department’s space assets, Bridenstine — one of the committee’s more junior members — used his first time at the mic to steer the wide-ranginging hearing back to space.

In the lead-up to his question, Bridenstine pointed to commercial communication satellites that he said provided significant technological upgrades over the military-owned Wideband Global Satcom satellites, currently built by Boeing.

“My question for you is: as we go forward, will we get proposals from the Department of Defense to take advantage and leverage these assets that already exist and, of course, the rapid advancements technology that are happening right now?,” Bridenstine asked.

“You make some very good points and I think the short answer is yes,” Kendall replied. “Because of concerns about the survivability of our space assets we’re looking at a wide range number of alternatives to the way we currently do business. …

“One of the things we have to look at is, can we effectively disaggregate by relying  more on commercial systems. We have to be sure they’ll be available in wartime, that we’ll have the capacity we need,” Kendall said.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Mark Ramsay — Kendall’s wingman at the hearing and  director of force structure, resources and assessment — chimed in as well.

“We are very much wedded to the commercial backbone and I just see that increasing over time,” Ramsay said. “It’s finding that right balance in the future.”

Kendall and Ramsay were testifying as part of a hearing titled “A Case for Reform: Improving DOD’s Ability to Respond to the Pace of Technological Change.”