Smaller, independently-steerable spot beams, all-digital payloads and beam-forming technologies are a few commercial satellite communication (COMSATCOM) technology trends a key Air Force official approves as the service prepares for a critical wideband SATCOM analysis of alternatives (AoA).
Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for Space and Director of the Principal Defense Department Space Advisors Staff Winston Beauchamp told sister publication Defense Daily the week of March 14 these technology trends will help the Air Force “quite a bit” as it evaluates how the government acquires SATCOM for the next decade or more. The AoA is an effort to solicit information from industry on what capabilities it could provide the Air Force in the future.
Beauchamp said beam-forming technologies will allow warfighters to avoid interference, also called jamming. As electronics get smaller, miniaturization of payloads will create space, weight and power that can be used with other payloads, he said.
Other technologies that the Air Force would like to see that will be part of discussions around the AoA, Beauchamp said, are improved encryption, cyber security and ground stations. He said many of these COMSATCOM operator trends were not created exclusively for DoD, but as a response to business imperatives in the commercial world that just happen to align with future DoD needs.
Beauchamp has set up a number of meetings with a broad range of operators and manufacturers across the industry prior to the Air Force nailing down the scope of the AoA. This, he said, will give the Air Force a really good understanding of not just these companies’ technology paths, but also their business models.
The Air Force plans to have two sets of engagements. Beauchamp said it has a series of one-on-one meetings with interested vendors and it is also doing sector-by-sector meetings with industry as well. He said the Air Force had two meetings set up back-to-back for satellite manufacturers like big prime contractors and operators Intelsat General and SES Government, though he didn’t say he met with those two specific companies. Beauchamp said the folks who attended the first set of meetings stuck around for the second set of meetings because the discussions taking place were so “rich and meaningful.”
“There’s some tradeoff there in having everybody in the room, but I don’t want to have every meeting turn out to be a general meeting,” Beauchamp said. “The important point is there is a demand for this and we’ll keep supporting them as long as there are these meaningful discussions to be had.”
While the Air Force has already conducted a number of one-on-ones, Beauchamp said it has more in the works. He said one-on-ones were planned for March 15, March 24 and April 1. An Air Force spokeswoman said she wouldn’t be able to respond to a request for comment by press time March 21.
One problem Beauchamp is facing is that each company has different measures of effectiveness and performance that they use to claim they are number one. The Air Force, he said, wants to make sure it is doing “apples-to-apples” comparisons with metrics that make the most sense and mean the most to DoD.
This will be good news to one leading COMSATCOM operator executive, who told sister publication Defense Daily recently that DoD often uses apples-to-oranges accounting perspectives between “purpose-built” satellites and commercially-operated satellites. He said DoD usually focuses on acquisition cost as opposed to evaluating the whole cost of acquiring SATCOM capabilities.
AFSPC chief Gen. John Hyten is providing input on the shape and scope of the AoA, Beauchamp said, and he agrees with the service’s approach of being “very inclusive” with industry. Beauchamp said Hyten has set aside some of the best talent in AFSPC to do the AoA’s “day-to-day heavy lifting.” Beauchamp also believes that Hyten will be part of the group that receives the AoA results.
The Air Force has created a space architecture division tasked with performing a “top-down” look at the future of the space architecture and how individual programs fit within it. Beauchamp said this unit will both provide information to the AoA and receive information from the analysis. The unit is headed by Air Force Director of Strategic Plans, Programs, Requirements and Analysis Brig. Gen. Nina Armagno.
Air Force spokesman Andy Roake said the space architecture group is more accurately defined as a “Tiger Team,” a group of experts temporarily brought together by a designated authority for a specific mission, usually to solve a specific problem or issue. Roake said AFSPC chief Gen. John Hyten created a Tiger Team to define the future strategic missile warning and satellite communications (SATCOM) architecture based on the Space Enterprise Vision, which the Air Force plans to roll out at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo., the week of April 11.
Roake said the Wideband AoA is currently being defined and has yet to begin. However, the expectation is to have the AoA completed around the spring of 2017, he said.
A competition is brewing between commercial satellite operators and military satellite manufacturers as the two groups position themselves to best benefit from the Air Force’s AoA.