Defense Leaders Say Pentagon Needs Better Satellite Capabilities, Methods

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Amidst a time of increasing demand for satellite capabilities and limited funds, Defense Department leaders are concerned that the current approach to space acquisition takes too much time and is too costly to stay apace with the current demand, according to a Federal News Radio report.

Gil Klinger, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for space and intelligence, indicated that the current approach for developing satellite communications capabilities isn’t working.

“We have to recognize that our programs are too expensive and there are too many of them in the pipeline,” he said. “That’s not a reflection of the value they provide. If we could afford it, I’d buy 20 of them. That’s not the issue. But that’s not the environment in which we’re working.”

The Pentagon has had efforts in the past to build high bandwidth satellite constellation including the Transformational Satellite Communications System, but the project was canceled in 2009 for budgetary reasons. While there is no current plan for such projects, the Pentagon is rethinking how it can deliver SATCOM capabilities with what they have.

At the MILCOM Conference in Baltimore, Klinger regarded the reliance on the military and intelligence community as a good thing, but that could also be interpreted as bad news since it results in being taken for granted, he said.

“When I pick up the handset of a landline, I don’t pay any attention to whether the dial tone is there,” Klinger said. “The only time I pay attention is when it’s not there.”

According to Doug Loverro, director of the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, leaning on commercial satellite capabilities hasn’t been done in a cost effective way. Other options from the Pentagon owning and operating its own satellites are being explored as well and while the current methods aren’t as effective as could be, they aren’t being thrown out, said Loverro.

“The rules protect us from buying things we don’t need. It’s our execution of the rules that’s the problem,” he said. “We don’t need to create a business deal where you must buy a satellite that takes 10 years to build. We can just as easily create a business deal where we have payloads on the shelf and hosting on satellites. That may be a billion dollar business deal over the next 10 years, but it still rapidly inserts new technology every time a payload goes up.”

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