Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) is about providing space power in a timely fashion in order to meet joint warfighter needs. Small satellites known as Tactical Satellites (TacSats) are one capability being developed within the ORS suite of capabilities that can be utilized in coalition military operations.


TacSats offer the potential advantage of providing coalition forces space power with satellites that individually cost only tens of millions of dollars. However, orbital mechanics impose limitations on satellites that utilize the low Earth orbits preferred for TacSats. A constellation of TacSats in low Earth orbit requires more satellites than a constellation of satellites in higher orbits. This is due to the fact that a satellite in low Earth orbit can be over a particular area of the Earth for much short periods of time than a satellite in a higher orbit.


Thus, the ORS use of TacSats presents a dilemma for the
United States
. One question certain to be asked is how can the
United States
afford TacSats while continuing the acquisition of major space programs such as the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, the Space Based Infrared System, the Transformation Communications Satellite, the National Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite System and upgrades to GPS navigation satellites? One answer is to enlist the
United States
‘ closest allies as partners in the development of TacSats. The U.S. Air Force traditionally has partnered with allies in acquiring systems. Examples include later blocks of the F-16, F-15 and C-130, and now the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Harnessing the power of established partnerships will allow the
United States
to harness the potential of small satellites in support of theater military operations. The case for Coalition Operationally Responsive Space (C-ORS) is based on three primary components: the heritage of NATO space operations, the logic of the U.S. Navy’s “1,000 ship” concept, and the business model used by Surrey Satellite Technologies Ltd, of
, to create the small satellite based Disaster Management Constellation. While NATO is a perfect case study to examine C-ORS, the logic of C-ORS applies equally well to other historically close allies such as
South Korea
and others.


NATO’s heritage in space goes back 40 years. Since 1967, NATO has utilized communications satellites as part of its command and control architecture. The initial NATO 1 satellites evolved throughout the 20th century into the NATO 2, NATO 3, NATO 4-A and NATO 4-B classes of satellites.


NATO’s latest program for its geostationary communications satellites is known as NATO Satcom Post. Today, as NATO’s 26 members are engaged in operations from
, NATO’s need for space support to theater operations is as strong as ever. In addition, NATO members are actively in the process of transforming their military capabilities.


NATO’s leadership and participation in operations such as Operation Enduring Freedom make NATO a logical partner in ORS. This logic closely parallels the logic used by Adm. Mike Mullen, the U.S. Navy’s chief of naval operations, when he articulates the rationale for a “1,000 Ship Navy,” which calls for expanded international naval cooperation.


The following remarks by Adm. Mullen during a town hall meeting in
, Sept. 7, capture the essence of his 1,000 Ship Navy concept: “We talk about a 1,000 Navy. That’s not just our ships. It’s an international fleet of like-minded nations participating in security operations around the world.”


And in remarks to the 17th International Seapower Symposium Sept 21, 2005, in Newport, R.I., he said: “No matter how large or small your navy or coast guard may be, we all face similar internal constraints like shrinking budgets, aging equipment and populations that may not be attracted to military service. Our level of cooperation and coordination must intensify in order to adapt to our shared challenges and constraints. We have no choice in this matter, because I am convinced that nobody – no nation today – can go it alone,” especially in the maritime domain.


This logic applies equally well to ORS. To paraphrase, when we talk about a “100 satellite solution” for ORS, we do not mean just our satellites. It’s an international constellation of like-minded nations participating in security operations around the world. No matter how large or small a nation might be, we all face similar challenges such as shrinking budgets, aging equipment, and the need to transform our militaries. Our level of cooperation and coordination must intensify in order to adapt to our shared challenges and constraints – no nation today can go it alone, especially in space.


C-ORS can take advantage of international cooperation much in the same manner that Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd did for its Disaster Management Constellation. The heart of
‘s Disaster Management Constellation business plan is cooperation of an international consortium because while many countries can afford a single small satellite, most cannot afford an entire constellation of satellites. Therefore, each partner country involved in the Disaster Management Constellation agreed to buy a small satellite to own and operate while sharing the data from its satellite with the other Disaster Management Constellation partners. This arrangement provides partner countries the benefits of a constellation at the price of only a single small satellite.


‘s business model is one that can be used to implement C-ORS. In the case of NATO, if each member of NATO agreed to buy and operate a single small satellite, then 26 small satellites would be available for use in NATO operations such as in
. A price tag in the low tens of millions of dollars or euros makes purchasing individual TacSats more attractive than purchasing an entire constellation or a single larger, more expensive satellite. As with the Disaster Management Constellation, individual NATO members would get the benefits of a constellation for the price of a single satellite.


The NATO case study illustrates the economic and military benefits of C-ORS. Fundamentally C-ORS allows for cost sharing that lowers the cost to individual countries. The
business model also provides opportunities for larger block buys of small satellites than would be the case of a U.S.-only TacSat constellation. These block buys would stimulate the satellite and launch industries while providing economies of scale, resulting in a lower-cost satellite.


C-ORS provides significant military benefits as well. C-ORS can cement historical ties by providing greater situational awareness for fielded forces. In the NATO example, 26 TacSats could provide three or four robust constellations (plus spare satellites) to provide communications and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance thereby creating coalition advantage through superior situational awareness. C-ORS would be an additional venue for improving interoperability and continuing transformation of allied militaries. Furthermore, C-ORS could provide member nations an added means of making meaningful contributions to coalition operations, one potentially without the domestic political challenges of troop contributions.


C-ORS has implications, as well, for maintaining the free use of space. A coalition constellation presents a challenge to a would-be attacker that a national constellation does not. Quite simply an attack on a coalition constellation is an attack on the coalition, not an attack on a single nation. A coalition can bring to bear diplomatic, economic and, if necessary, military responses to an attack in space on a scale greater than any single nation. Thus C-ORS offers a way to maintain the freedom of space.


Implementation of C-ORS without violating the U.S. International Trafficking in Arms regulations presents challenges for the
United States
. However, precedence for C-ORS has been set by NATO communications satellites and the international nature of other programs such as the F-35. Secondly, the establishment of any type of new coalition capability requires time in order to reach a consensus on how to proceed. Lastly, C-ORS will require the development of new command relationships as well as tactics, techniques and procedures in order to take full advantage of the capabilities provided.


In spite of the challenges, C-ORS should provide a myriad of economic and military benefits. C-ORS will enable the
United States
to constructively exercise leadership in space and bring international cooperation to new levels and provide critical capabilities in support of coalition operations. Moreover, C-ORS can be a means to further cement historical partnerships between like-minded nations, while solving the dilemma of funding TacSat development along with funding the development of existing space system programs.


U.S. Air Force Col. Tom Doyne works in the office of the Director of Defense Research and Engineering. He previously worked on ORS issues for the Office of Force Transformation. These are his own thoughts on the issue.