WGS satellites Air Force
WGS satellites. Credit: Boeing

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Air Force is putting out a request for information within the coming weeks on satellite communications capabilities in the commercial sector, the service announced March 23.

The Air Force is currently working on an “analysis of alternatives” to study how it will meet the military’s evolving satellite communications needs in coming years. The RFI is the only one currently planned for the length of the so-called Wideband AoA, though the Defense Department will hold quarterly roundtable meetings with industry leadership, said Air Force Col. George Nagy, a co-leader of the AoA and part of the office of principal DoD space adviser.

“We know that the pace of commercial satcom development has been very rapid in the last several years,” Nagy said during a media roundtable at the Pentagon here. “The purpose of the RFI really is to make sure we capture, particularly from a technology standpoint, those potential enabling technologies that should be considered in whatever vein for the wideband enterprise.”

The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, California will publish the official RFI, Nagy said.

The most recent military communications satellite, Wideband Global Satcom 9, launched March 17. The launch of WGS-10 is planned for 2019. The AoA – currently funded for $7.8 million — is studying what comes next. It officially started in December, and is expected to run 12 to 18 months, Nagy said.

Norman Yarbrough, at the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, said that all options are currently on the table, “whether industry would completely own the process and we would just accept the terminals and incorporate them into our weapons systems, to something like the other end of the spectrum, like we have WGS today where we basically own everything.”

“We’re looking at every model conceivable in between,” said Yarbrough, co-leader of the analysis. “The good news from an AoA perspective, from an industry, from a warfighter perspective, is the AoA’s too early to have ruled out anything

The RFI will also consider “contractual mechanisms that might be unique to a particular company or organization that might give us a more high value to meet our warfighter demands,” he said.

Air Force officials will also evaluate the information private companies submit based on survivability and resiliency of space systems, and how well they could integrate with ground- and air-based communications, Yarbrough said.

The AoA is an opportunity for the Air Force to evaluate its communication systems outside of the high demand that nearly 15 years of continuous war have placed on sitcom, Nagy said.

“Commercial satcom is an important part of what DoD does on the wideband enterprise today,” he said. “Much of that was driven by circumstance after 9/11 where it drove us to do things that might not have been planned prior to that. Now we’re at an inflection point, a place where we can go ahead and more deliberately look at the functional capabilities that the wideband enterprise requires, what the appropriate mix of capabilities is to include commercial and international partners.”

Phillip Swarts is the military space reporter for SpaceNews. He previously covered space and advanced technology for Air Force Times, the Justice Department for The Washington Times, and investigative journalism for the Washington Guardian;...