Though the Pentagon sees “great leverage” in some of the small satellite developments that industry is bringing forward, it still needs to figure out how to properly integrate them into its infrastructure from a military perspective, according to a key official.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy Doug Loverro said Friday the Defense Department will need funding to pursue this proper small satellite integration and that DoD leadership will have a better idea of a game plan when it assembles its fiscal year 2018 budget. Despite the lack of a concrete idea of how to leverage small satellites, Loverro left no doubt that DoD, moving forward, sees use for small satellites, particularly in deterring war in space.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy Doug Loverro. Photo: DoD.
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy Doug Loverro. Photo: DoD.

“We certainly understand that a part of this resilience equation is leveraging this industrial base of small satellites,” Loverro told an audience at a Peter Huessy breakfast series event on Capitol Hill.

Loverro said DoD is still rather unsure about how war in space might take place or how it could evolve. He said the Pentagon recently had a war game on space war and much time was spent arguing about what an attack in space would look like. Parties, he said, debated whether jamming was an attack or if laser was an attack. Loverro wondered if an attack on a satellite has to be kinetic to be truly considered an attack. He said this hasn’t been settled in international law and probably won’t for a long time.

In the meantime, Loverro said DoD is focusing on preventing space attacks by persuading adversaries that they have little to gain from such an attack. Consequences, Loverro said, could include international condemnation or risk of a retaliatory strike. DoD’s only deterrence to space attacks cannot be solely retaliatory strikes, Loverro said.

“We think going down the approach of assurance, denying (the adversary) benefit from his attack and making it politically difficult for (the adversary) to attack…is a better way to deter attacks in space than depend upon retaliatory strikes,” Loverro said.

The Air Force is preparing a wideband satellite communications (SATCOM) analysis of alternatives (AoA) to examine how future wideband SATCOM capabilities should be procured, whether through traditional DoD satellites, through commercial capabilities or perhaps a mix. In maybe a forecast of what the Pentagon could want, Loverro said DoD is looking to heavily leverage on commercial communication to possibly reduce its investment in its wideband communications and instead rely on commercial operators’ diversity and capability.

Loverro said this is because DoD is going to have to spend more money in some areas, like nuclear warning, that don’t have commercial capabilities. Commercial operators for years have been calling for DoD to reform its commercial SATCOM acquisition so it can better prepare to provide the Pentagon what it needs.

“We’re going to have to increase our investment in some areas to make those things more resilient and more assured,” Loverro said. “We can offset that, I believe, by leveraging our partners, our international partners and our U.S. commercial partners.”