WASHINGTON — Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, who has spearheaded Pentagon efforts to bring cutting-edge technology into defense programs, is overseeing the military’s first commercial space integration strategy.

The new strategy comes as the Pentagon seeks to tap into advancements in commercial space technology to maintain an advantage over China, now seen as America’s top military competitor. 

“At Deputy Secretary Hicks’ direction, the Department is currently developing our first DoD Commercial Space Integration Strategy in order to drive integration and ensure the availability of commercial space solutions during competition, crisis and conflict,” Pentagon Spokesman Eric Pahon said Nov. 27 in a statement to SpaceNews.

The space integration strategy is being drafted by the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy John Plumb. Speaking at an industry conference last month, Plumb said, “It’s an exciting time for innovation in space and there’s major opportunities for the department to leverage, like the rapid production and technology refresh rates that the commercial sector can provide.”

The Pentagon’s annual report on Chinese military capabilities released to Congress last month warned that China was closing once-substantial gaps with American space technologies, increasing the possibility that Beijing could gain the upper hand in a future conflict by attacking United States satellites.

Speaking with reporters last week, Hicks called China’s rise the Pentagon’s top concern and said partnering with the private sector is vital to outpacing Beijing in developing cutting-edge technology. But she acknowledged the Pentagon needs to do more to attract commercial innovation. “We have a challenge with the commercial sector really looking at DoD as a strong and capable partner,” she said.  

The new commercial strategy joins other initiatives led by Hicks, including a project to rapidly develop fleets of unmanned vehicles and platforms using artificial intelligence and other advanced commercial technologies, which she has pushed as a lesson from Ukraine’s war against Russian forces.

“The Ukrainians are showing a lot of how that rapid iteration is happening” in deploying drones and other unmanned systems, Hicks said. The Pentagon is now working to emulate that agility, she added.

Commercial space reserve

Separately from the commercial space integration strategy, DoD and U.S. Space Force officials are drafting plans to establish a commercial space reserve to ensure the U.S. military has access to commercial satellites during conflicts.

Under the program known as Commercial Augmentation Space Reserve (CASR), DoD would sign agreements with companies to ensure services like satellite communications and remote sensing are prioritized for U.S. government use during national security emergencies.

Hicks is backing these efforts, said Pahon. “With the rapid growth of the commercial space sector, we have an opportunity to capture that innovation in support of the warfighter,” he added. “The Commercial Augmentation Space Reserve is one of several important initiatives that are getting after this challenge.”

The CASR project is led by the Space Force’s Space Systems Command. 

The goal is to recruit companies to participate in the program during peacetime, with the incentive that they would get large contracts for services if they are needed during conflicts or crises. To motivate companies to be part of CASR, the Space Force would give them access to wargames, for example, allowing them to participate in exercises so they can better understand how satellite-based services are used. 

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...