Declining budgets for the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (AFSMC) are allowing the agency to pursue riskier projects, according to a key official.

AFSMC Executive Director David Madden said May 2 the agency’s budget has declined by about half over the past three years, from about $10 billion to around $5.6 billion. Despite the declining budgets, Madden said AFSMC is still expected to provide the same capability, encouraging the agency to push the envelope. AFSMC is responsible for on-orbit checkout, testing, sustainment and maintenance of military satellite constellations and other Defense Department space systems.

“It’s allowing us to do some things we’ve always kind of wanted to do, but (that) no one would have done because of the risk associated with it,” Madden told a Peter Huessy Capitol Hill breakfast audience. “Now (leadership) is actually listening to some of these ideas.”

Madden said some of these ideas include the joint ventures, or international partnerships, in new satellite communications platforms like Wideband Global Satcom (WGS). WGS, a worldwide, flexible, high data rate and long-haul non-protected communications platform, features international partnerships with Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Madden said these partnerships are significantly reducing ownership costs and benefiting operations by putting allies on the same frequency as the United States. Boeing [BA] develops WGS.

AFSMC is also looking at a new waveform called Protected Tactical Waveform (PTW), Madden said, which would provide additional capability over current wideband systems. Madden said PTW has been tested on WGS as well as on commercial systems. Interoperability between military and commercial platforms would allow simple interoperability, Madden said, while providing additional anti-jam protection. Madden said AFSMC is also looking at PTW as a potential foundation for a future protected tactical communications system.

Madden said ground terminals and integration are “by far” the largest cost to a MILSATCOM program, to the rate of roughly 10 times the cost of the satellites buses. With so much invested in ground terminals, Madden said AFSMC in the future needs to be careful about going in a different direction with ground terminals.

“It’s just cost prohibitive,” he said.