Experts weigh in on what a bigger Pentagon budget should mean for space
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of SpaceNews magazine.
U.S. President Donald Trump promised “a great rebuilding of the armed services” when he spoke at the Pentagon in January, ordering newly sworn-in Defense Secretary James Mattis to work with the White House Office of Management and Budget on a “military readiness emergency budget amendment” for boosting defense spending this year.
Trump gave Mattis and OMB until the end of April to thoroughly revise the Pentagon’s 2018 budget proposal, which was drafted under a different commander-in-chief.
During his campaign, Trump called for more airplanes, more ships and more soldiers, but said little about bolstering the space capabilities these forces rely upon.
While we wait to see how space fares in the Pentagon’s revised spending plans, SpaceNews reached out to leaders in the space field and asked them:
If the Defense Department increases spending on military space, what programs or areas would you like to see that extra funding go towards?
What follows is what they had to say. Responses have been edited for length.
I would like to see increased defense space funding in five areas:
– Protected Tactical Service: The PTS program will develop and deploy a more robust satellite communications waveform which can be integrated into military and commercial systems. More funding is needed to accelerate the development, testing, and deployment.
– Enterprise Ground Services: Right now, mission ground systems are stovepiped, thus preventing seamless information sharing and common operating pictures. They don’t “talk” to each other, and operators are trained to use individual systems. EGS is a new initiative to break down those stovepipes.
– Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center: Contested space requires unity of effort from the defense and intelligence communities. JICSpOC is a critical effort to fuse space situational awareness across the enterprise and coordinate responsive actions.
– Satcom Pilot Program: It is important that the ongoing [Wideband Global Satcom] Follow-on Analysis of Alternatives help ensure that the future satcom architecture fully leverage commercial systems and services. The Satcom Pilots can inform the AoA by demonstrating leap-ahead commercial capabilities. These pilots need a substantial increase in funding so DoD can select and start multiple projects.
– Space-based missile defense sensor layer: Employing tracking sensors in space could provide global and persistent coverage and contribute significantly to interceptor performance. The space-based layer would also contribute to space situational awareness. We need to move quickly from demonstration to operational capabilities. This is a long-overdue effort.
RESILIENCY AND PROTECTION FOR SPACE SYSTEMS
The president and secretary of defense directed the department to review future funding priorities. Anything we would provide at this time would be pre-decisional, and thus we do not want to get ahead of these reviews.
Space capabilities remain foundational to our way of life, not only for the United States, but for the international community at large. From a military perspective, space today is fundamental to every single military operation that occurs on the planet. It’s ever-present in the corners of the world where we operate, ensuring that our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are never alone. Every operation they conduct, from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to major combat operations, is critically dependent on space capabilities. That is why the U.S. must maintain and evolve our space-based capabilities, and why we will continue to advocate for its prioritization.
One of the things we’ve been determining in space is how do we become more resilient? A lot of the activities that people have been looking at is how do we take the ways we are doing certain programs of record, and can we break those down into smaller systems and be able to provide a larger capability to reconstitute?
If we could create a more maneuverable funding for propulsion for those satellite systems, which could give them ability to move if they were attacked.
I think DoD’s headed down an absolutely critical path of space situational awareness. Intelsat reported last year that [another] satellite crept up and parked itself near one of theirs. We were unable to really determine what it was doing. It’s all good and well being able to see what’s going on, but are you actually able to do anything about it. So that’s the second part of the equation: the offense measures — can you get rid of the threat? And the defensive measures, can you mitigate what the threat is doing?
Certainly the ability to operate in a contested environment to address the resiliency challenges, and that’s in terms of not only making sure that you can operate command and control through space, but also acquiring the right interoperable and redundant capabilities to add that resiliency picture, in terms of recapitalization. That’s true across all spectrum of space, to include the commercial satcom piece and to invest in that intentionally as a critical component of communications infrastructure.
Increased funding is probably most appropriate to accelerate development and implementation of future architectures that increase resilience for core areas, such as overhead persistent infrared, military satellite communications, and positioning, navigation, and timing. The Pentagon has spent the last several years developing a space mission assurance strategy for reducing the vulnerability of national security space capabilities, and it would be good to start implementing that strategy.
It would be wise for the new administration to invest additional funds in starting new acquisition programs for protected satcom and missile warning. We are at a point where we don’t just need the next-generation of [Advanced Extremely High Frequency] and [Space Based Infrared System] satellites but rather entirely new architectures that are more resilient, more distributed, and more scalable.
INVESTMENT IN LAUNCH DEVELOPMENT
The administration should direct the national security and military space communities to explore the use of small satellites and of responsive, commercial launch vehicles in their next-generation system architecture trade studies. Specifically, small satellites have proven to provide cost-effective alternatives to large program missions, with some unique capabilities that could not be realized otherwise.
The milspace community could create a program similar to NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services program, designed to secure highly affordable and flexible launches for small satellites. In addition to providing an affordable ride to space for the selected payloads, such a program would increase the likelihood of having not just one but multiple viable, commercial, American launch solutions for small satellites.
How do you get low-cost launch? There’s several people looking at that, but we haven’t really gotten that low-cost, reliable launch vehicle. How do we really lower the cost of launch that could enable us to deploy a lower-cost satellite and not have them need to last seven to 15 years?. On the satellite side, how do we build more universal buses, how do we build buses that really can accommodate multiple types of payloads, so you can spend your money on the payloads rather than on the buses.
INVESTING IN PARTNERSHIPS WITH INDUSTRY AND ACADEMIA
For commercial satellite providers to actively support [Pentagon programs], DoD must shift its focus from developing its own unique systems to leveraging resilient, flexible technology from industry partners. Commercially available managed services are one advanced option that can help ensure uninterrupted, high-throughput communications worldwide when and where it is most needed.
When it comes to commercial space, the military can be an important enabler by co-funding development of dual-use technologies to seed the market and by serving as an anchor customer for commercial space services the military can also utilize. This would help the military access commercial space innovations and help ensure U.S. space companies remain competitive in the global market—both of which are good for national security.
Myland Pride, Director of Government and Legislative Affairs, Intelsat General
In a fiscally constrained environment, with changing mission priorities, the Department of Defense needs to seriously consider taking advantage of growing commercial capabilities in space operations, satellite communications, weather, [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance], and other mission areas. Funding for transition of some mission areas to commercial, to save money and precious manpower to focus on more critical missions should be a priority.
Moriba Jah, Director of Space Object Behavioral Sciences, University of Arizona
The government should fund an academic-led consortium to provide it with state-of-the-possible ideas to its problems and serve as an independent assessor of scientific and technological solutions being sold to the government by private industry (i.e. sniffing proposed technologies for whether they would actually work based upon technical merit or not). The military needs an unbiased group that can help it be more efficient in acquiring critical space technologies. Academia is perfect for scrutinizing the ideas of any community or entities.
Frank Slazer, Vice President of Space Systems, Aerospace Industries Association
“There is a need for better coordination and dialogue between government and industry in order to shorten the time from requirement development to deployed capability. Our cycle times are approaching 10-12 years. That’s way too long given the rapid rate of progress by other nations. Acquisition reform is needed to streamline this process. With better dialogue, the government will better understand what industry can (and can’t!) currently do, and industry will have a clearer understanding of what the government needs and where new investments are needed…it is much better to have an ongoing dialogue with industry than a more formal industry response to a formal, and fixed, set of government requirements.
A FINAL WORD OF CAUTION
All that said, I’d caution against focusing solely on spending as a metric of progress or success. All too often, increased spending is used as a crutch to avoid making strategic choices, which only kicks the core problems down the road. Part of the reason the U.S. is facing its current challenges are because of past decisions to just keep doing more of the same thing.
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of SpaceNews.