WASHINGTON — The Defense Department is considering ways to partner with commercial space companies so their services can be accessed during national security emergencies, DoD space policy chief John Plumb told lawmakers April 26.

Plumb, who is assistant secretary of defense for space policy, testified at a House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee hearing on national security space issues.

He said there are ongoing conversations about an initiative led by the U.S. Space Force called “commercial augmentation space reserves.” This is a new project looking at whether it makes sense to create the space equivalent of the civil reserve air fleet, or CRAF, a program the Pentagon conceived 70 years ago to gain access to commercial airlift capacity in emergencies.

Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) asked Plumb if the idea of a CRAF-like program for space was being seriously considered and when Congress might see a concrete plan. 

“I fully agree we need to be able to access commercial space partners and their capacity and bandwidth,” Plumb said, although the specifics have yet to be determined. 

“I will say that the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense have charged all of us to work on that,” Plumb said. That includes the Space Systems Command, the National Reconnaissance Office and DoD’s policy office.

Plumb told Waltz it will take a few months to come up with a strategy and report back to Congress with a “coherent story as to where we are in each of these pieces and how they’re coming together.”

He said an initiative to work with commercial space is “very important and I think this is the right time to make sure we’re doing it right.”

The Space Systems Command has been in talks with private companies about a commercial reserves program that would include satellite manufacturers, launch vehicle operators, remote sensing companies and other sectors of the space industry the government would need to mobilize during a crisis.

Lawmakers to get briefed on space acquisition programs

The chairman of the strategic forces subcommittee Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo) and the ranking member Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) plan to visit the Space Systems Command in Los Angeles on Monday.

Lamborn said he and Moulton expect to hear from command leaders more details about the commercial reserve initiative and to get updates on procurement programs. 

Frank Calvelli, assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisitions and integration, told Lamborn that the Space Force is carrying out a strategy Calvelli introduced last year to expedite the procurement of next-generation systems. 

“I think you’re going to be very impressed when you visit SSC,” Calvelli said. “They have really stepped up their game,” particularly in missile-warning satellites, he said. “They’ve taken to the nine tenets that I put out back in October, they are looking at going smaller with their systems, they are looking at going faster, they understand the direction we want to head in.”

Moulton said acquisition programs is one area the committee will “watch closely.”

“In addition to the pattern of large satellite programs being late and over budget, the ground system architecture still frequently comes as an afterthought,” said Moulton. “We have been notified yet again of delays to the Next-Generation Operational Ground Control Segment, the modern, cybersecure ground system to operate the GPS satellites.”

OCX was supposed to be delivered in 2016 for $3.9 billion, he noted. Seven years later, and almost double that cost, “we are still waiting.”

‘Overclassification’ concerns, DoD report overdue

Lamborn asked Plumb for an update on a congressionally mandated report that DoD is supposed to deliver recommending what space space programs could be “reclassified” so more information can be shared with allies. 

The overclassification of space often contributes to inefficiencies and slower processes, said Lamborn. “Two years ago, we asked your office to report back after looking at highly classified space programs to see what, if anything, could be reclassified. We are still waiting for that report.”

Overclassification, said Lamborn, “I believe is impeding the department’s progress on space, specifically making it more challenging to collaborate with our allies and partners.”

Moulton made a similar point. “The classification of space inhibits both our ability to advocate for increasing investment and expand collaboration with our allies and partners.”

Plumb said the report should be finalized in the next few months. 

“Working with allies and partners is absolutely essential in this security environment,” he said. “On space in particular, the inability to share some classified information with highly capable allies is slowing us down and we’re working on it.”

Plumb pointed out that some classified information is exchanged with key allies. “But the question is, can we share more, especially for operationally relevant needs to be able to do combined space operations.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...