Recently, I wrote about the push to improve Air Force Space Command’s Enterprise Ground Services (EGS). EGS is not a new kind of ground system or acquisition program – it’s a new approach to satellite ground infrastructure critical to supporting General John Hyten’s overall concept for the future Space Enterprise Vision.
Space has been called this country’s Achilles’ heel when it comes to national security. Our current space architecture has become inflexible, and is a tempting target for potential adversaries. I’ve just returned from a space technology conference where I presented key benefits of and considerations for how the US Government can acquire commercial services within EGS and future satellite program acquisitions.
Currently every space system is highly stove-piped, and has limited interoperability with other mission ground systems. It’s a highly inefficient system that creates too many single points of failure in the case of conflict. What’s needed is a set of standards and common core pieces that would allow systems to interoperate and serve as backup for greater resiliency. This would also optimize resources across space missions.
There are two opportunities for Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) to implement EGS and optimize its buying power. The first is through commercializing routine satellite operations. The Air Force is leaning toward commercializing Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) operations in 2016, and other satellite missions to follow. Routine satellite command and control can be serviced by a commercial operator, allowing the Air Force to focus personnel on battlefield management tasks and payload mission operations.
The second opportunity is implementing EGS to focus on reorganizing existing ground systems to support a common infrastructure and a multi-mission environment. This would allow for interoperability and a more resilient dispersal or virtualization of space fighting capabilities. The Air Force can no longer allow every space program to be stove-piped, which is incredibly inefficient, is vulnerable to disruption and provides no holistic situational awareness in space.
To date there has been a great deal of discussion around common data standards for EGS, which is a positive step towards a more resilient space architecture. Standards for data fusion are very good, but EGS needs to be about defined services as well. A focus on standards alone could quickly evolve to more government requirements, which could be used to promote proprietary, non-COTS solutions.
But beyond that, focusing on standards eludes a major shift that must occur for EGS efforts to succeed. Where it makes sense, the US Government needs to shift their buying practices and begin purchasing services from commercial space operators. Trying to do otherwise in today’s threat environment ensures that systems will be obsolete before they ever make it into space. The way to ensure EGS considers commercial space services is to make it part of the due diligence process for developing future Air Force satellite mission acquisition strategies.
The current procurement process for a new space system requires review and approval through the Joint Requirements Oversight Council and Congress, through the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System (JCIDs) and the congressional budget process. That’s a process that takes years, and makes rapid technological innovation impossible! In contrast, buying space services from commercial operators “bakes in” innovation, since the commercial sector is constantly innovating to stay competitive.
The process around purchasing space services greatly increases efficiencies as well as innovation. Military needs would be clearly scoped, and the DoD could take advantage of rigorous Service Level Agreements guaranteeing availability and reporting. Government customers would be leveraging decades of commercial operational expertise, and the services can be delivered and operational in a period of weeks and months. The current procurement structure requires years or decades.
Procuring services from commercial space operators is a critical piece for EGS to succeed. It keeps DoD ahead of potential space adversaries, increases flexibility and resiliency and is the only way to innovate rapidly. Commercial space is an incredibly competitive market, with operators constantly investing in technology to manage their own operations most affordably and to stay ahead of the competition.
If the USG can make the procurement shift from making systems to purchasing commercial services, they too will stay ahead of their competitors. This will increase resiliency and allow DoD to innovate rapidly in and through the Space domain.