This article was first published in the SN Military.Space newsletter. If you would like to get our news and insights for national security space professionals every Tuesday, sign up here for your free subscription.

SN Military.Space Sandra Erwin

The United States is spending billions developing new strategic missiles, submarines and bombers as part of the nuclear triad. The command authorities also have to be able to control these platforms, and need unhackable, jam-proof communications systems that are guaranteed to work under any circumstance.

That is the challenge facing U.S. Strategic Command: figuring out how to develop a modern nuclear command, control and communications system (NC3) that passes muster. STRATCOM said it will create an “NC3 Enterprise Center” to coordinate efforts.

DODIIS Worldwide 2018

The commander of U.S. STRATCOM Gen. John Hyten met with industry executives last week in Washington for an informal chat. One executive who attended the meeting said Hyten stressed the NC3 project should “move fast” and not get bogged down in studies. “He was encouraging us to work together to find solutions,” said Ken Peterman, president of ViaSat Government Systems.

Peterman said he hopes the government will not dictate how the future NC3 system should be designed and instead allows the private sector to propose ideas. “Tell us the problem, share the mission need at a high level, don’t constrain the solutions,” said Peterman.

A case in point is strategic communications satellites. The Air Force is studying options to replace the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites a decade from now. Peterman said the government should consider alternatives to just buying replacement satellites. “Now you have a single point of failure,” Peterman said. He suggested the NC3 system should have a capability to roam among a wide variety of commercial and military satellites so it can ensure that if one system does down, others are available as backup.

DoD should not assume that the industry is reluctant to invest in nuclear-hardened satellites because there is no commercial market, Peterman said. “Put the problem out there first, and then let industry decide what the business case might be.”

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...