The Air Force is gearing up to solicit bids to have industry take over operating two constellations of military communications satellites: the Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) system and its predecessor, the Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS).
The Air Force plans to issue the request for proposals (RFP) in “about two months,” said Robert Tarleton Jr., director of the service’s MILSATCOM Systems Directorate, which is part of the Space and Missile Systems Center in California.
The Air Force wants to “bring in the contractors” to “relieve the blue-suiters so they can go work the other things” and “take advantage of things that only the military can do,” Tarleton told reporters Dec. 13 after speaking at a Defense One event in Arlington, Va.
Air Force officials also believe that outsourcing would save the government money, though it is unclear how much.
The winning bidder would initially operate the satellites from Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado. That activity could eventually shift to a contractor facility, creating a “unique” situation in which a company flies WGS and DSCS from the same location as its commercial satellites, Tarleton said.
A September 2015 request for information signaled the Air Force’s interest in outsourcing WGS operations. The Air Force has since decided to add DSCS to the upcoming RFP. Boeing [BA] builds the WGS satellites, and Lockheed Martin [LMT] produced the DSCS spacecraft.
Tarleton’s comments came less than a week after the Air Force and United Launch Alliance (ULA) Dec. 7 launched the eighth of 10 planned WGS high-capacity communication satellites. ULA is a joint venture formed by Lockheed Martin and Boeing. He also spoke two days before a Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) is scheduled to meet Dec. 15 to review Air Force plans to conduct a study of options, or analysis of alternatives (AoA), for a WGS successor.
While an AoA typically takes 18 months, the wideband study is “going to be complex” because the Air Force has asked commercial and international partners to provide input, said Winston Beauchamp, Air Force deputy undersecretary for space. But Beauchamp is not worried about a completion date because “with the successful launch of WGS-8, we’re set for MILSATCOM for some time.”