House appropriators suggest Navy and Air Force should merge satellite communications programs

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Is it time for the Navy to turn over the Mobile User Objective System to the Air Force? The House Appropriations Committee is calling on the leaders of the services to consider such a move. In the current fragmented ecosystem of military satellite communications, the Navy supplies narrowband connectivity via the MUOS constellation. The Air Force supplies the wideband communication provided by the Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) system. The Army is the military’s largest user of satcom services and is responsible for developing the user terminals that troops use in the field.

“The current military satellite communications architecture comprises independently designed, purpose-built spacecraft; ground systems; and user terminals intended to meet differing mission requirements for strategic, wideband, and narrowband communications,” says the HAC report that accompanies the committee’s 2020 defense bill. In fiscal year 2019, the committee tasked the service to develop an integrated architecture and acquisition strategy for wideband and narrowband communications, including both government and commercial systems and user terminals. This year they are going further. “The committee encourages the Secretaries of the Navy and the Air Force to consider transferring responsibility for future narrowband satellite communications systems from the Navy to the Air Force to help create an integrated communications architecture.”

An industry source said DoD should view this language as a “warning shot” from the committee. The appropriators are not happy after DoD didn’t adequately respond to their concerns last year, the source said. “The committee uses the word ‘encourage’ when it thinks the executive branch should do something but is willing to hear more debate first.”

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