Op-Ed | U.S. Air Force takes positive step with Space Based Environmental Monitoring RFI


For more than five years, resiliency and disaggregation have been a point of discussion in Air Force acquisition circles. In an April 2013 statement to the Senate Armed Services, U.S. Air Force Gen. William Shelton, then the head of U.S. Space Command,  said: “Beyond the necessity of finding efficiencies and cost savings, we may very well find that disaggregated or dispersed constellations of satellites will yield greater survivability, robustness and resilience in light of environmental and adversarial threats.”

The Air Force has struggled with environmental monitoring from satellite systems for several years.  The excessive costs of maintaining the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) and simultaneously developing replacements, in a time of constrained resources and competing priorities, puts the future of a space-based environmental sensing system at risk.

A noted success, the DMSP has been a workhorse program, supporting military missions and advances in space technology. In fact, DMSP has even served as a catalyst for the commercial industry to span a new set of abilities and opportunities for the military.

The recent Air Force Request for Information (RFI) on Space Based Environmental Monitoring (SBEM) is an outstanding first step for the Air Force to look at SBEM as a commercial service.  The Department of Defense has historically used commercial services to fulfill requirements for initiatives, such as communications.  Environmental monitoring using commercial providers is a natural progression.

One only has to look at the growing number of companies that offer data required to monitor the environment to see commercial data services are a natural fit to fulfilling the massive environmental monitoring needs of the military. In particular these commercial opportunities support the concept of resiliency and disaggregation desired in the overall space strategy. Just look at the conclusion in the Air Force Space Command white paper “Resiliency and Disaggregated Space Architectures”:

“Disaggregation is an innovative opportunity to stay ahead of our adversaries, to change their targeting calculus, and to mitigate the effects of a widespread attack on our space assets. In addition, resilience serves as a deterrent, which may be the best way to preserve our capability by avoiding an attack. “

As a closing thought, think how this can simplify the process for getting needed data to support our warfighter and reduce the impact to taxpayer’s wallets. Commercial data services allow a smoother Future Years Defense Plan (FYDP) budget profile.  They also relieve large acquisition spikes from the FYDP and reduce the lifetime cost to the government budget.

Congratulations to the Air Force for taking the steps to embrace commercial processes for environmental data needs! You are enabling the future.

James M. Olson, is executive vice president of strategic data solutions for Tempus Global Data, an Ogden, Utah-based company seeking to deploy a global network of sounder instruments aboard geostationary satellites and sell the data commercially.