U.S. Air Force Wideband Global Satcom communications satellite. Credit: Boeing artist's concept

WASHINGTON — At least four companies have expressed interest in handling the operation and maintenance of the U.S. Air Force’s Wideband Global Satcom communications satellites, according to an Oct. 26 post to the Federal Business Opportunities website.

The service issued a request for information Sept. 9 as one of the first steps to commercialize some of the service’s satellite operations and transfer others to a new common ground system. The changes are a top priority for Gen. John Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command, who has preached the message for months.


In questions-and-answers with industry on Oct. 26, at least four companies identified interest in the project:

  • Intelsat General Corp. of McLean, Virginia, the government services arm of satellite operator Intelsat. Intelsat executives there have repeatedly said the company employs just a fraction of the staff the Air Force traditionally uses to fly satellites.
  • Northrop Grumman, which has designed ground systems for major NASA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Air Force satellite programs.
  • Engineering services firm Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies of Greenbelt, Maryland, which provides support for several NASA programs.
  • Satellite command and control systems provider Kratos Defense & Security Solutions of San Diego. Kratos already provides command and control for the Air Force’s four current and legacy military satellite communications programs.

Air Force officials have previously said they hoped to commercialize WGS system operations in 2016.

The service is in the midst of a top-to-bottom review of its satellite ground infrastructure that is driven largely by budget constraints and emerging threats from China and Russia. The service wants to use uniformed space personnel more for battle management tasks, as opposed to routine satellite maintenance operations, and also envisions saving money by reducing costly infrastructure.

Air Force leaders have discussed outsourcing WGS operations as a pathfinder for doing the same with other constellations, specifically the GPS positioning, navigation and timing satellites.

Mike Gruss covers military space issues, including the U.S. Air Force and Missile Defense Agency, for SpaceNews. He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.