WASHINGTON — An initiative to ensure the U.S. military has access to commercial space industry services during conflicts is gaining support inside the Pentagon, although the details are still being ironed out. 

“Every domain needs an industrial base” and that includes space, said Lt. Gen. DeAnna Burt, the Space Force’s deputy chief for operations, cyber and nuclear.

A lesson from the war in Ukraine is that “you have to have the industrial base to produce the stuff and to sustain a fight. We need the same thing in space,” Burt said in an interview with SpaceNews.

Under an initiative known as Commercial Augmentation Space Reserves, or CASR, the Space Force is looking at establishing agreements with companies to ensure services like satellite communication and remote sensing are prioritized for U.S. government use during national security emergencies.

CASR has been described as the space equivalent of the civil reserve air fleet, or CRAF, a program the Pentagon conceived 70 years ago to gain access to commercial airlift capacity in an emergency. 

Burt cautioned that the CRAF analogy might be oversimplifying the problem. 

“Sometimes I worry that we are conflating commercial augmentation from a satellite perspective with airplanes,” she said. “They’re not the same. Not the same at all.”

Civilian CRAF airplanes, for example, would not be sent into dangerous war zones whereas commercial satellites would be treated just like military satellites, Burt explained. 

“If you’re a commercial satellite, you’re in the war zone. I can’t separate in space what’s commercial, what’s coalition, what’s military. Because we’re all flying in Earth’s orbits,” she said. 

The Defense Department for decades has relied on commercial companies for space-based services. The CASR concept, however, is a “whole different discussion,” said Burt, as companies would be expected to support the government possibly at the expense of their commercial customers. 

“How do you buy surge?” she asked. Commercial providers have to balance the needs of many customers. “I want to make sure that we’re looking through all the lenses and the commercial guys need to have a voice on this.”

Conversations with the industry

The Space Systems Command’s newly established Commercial Space Office, is working on a plan for how the CASR initiative could be implemented. 

Col. Richard Kniseley, head of the commercial office, said a new round of meetings with industry executives is scheduled for July.

“This has always been advertised as a partnership,” Kniseley told reporters June 6.

The idea is to establish contractual relationships with companies that would voluntarily sign up, he said. “My vision is that they will be on contract even during peacetime.” 

Also part of the discussion is whether the government would indemnify contractors if their assets are damaged when used in support of the U.S. military. “We’re looking into it,” said Kniseley. “We haven’t yet made a determination.”

Burt said she expects it will take some time to sort through all the legalities and scenarios. “But I think it’s important that we continue to keep talking because the commercial companies have a voice. Every commercial company looks at things differently. And I don’t think some people recognize that.”

“It’s going to be a case by case, contract by contract discussion,” Burt said. “So I’m glad to hear they are meeting again in July. We just have to keep talking it out until we get to a contract vehicle or something that they’re happy with, and that we’re happy with.” Some companies may decide it’s not in their best interest to be part of CASR, “and that’s okay.”

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...