WASHINGTON — The Space Force is “days away” from adopting a strategy for buying and integrating commercial space capabilities.
Lt. Gen. DeAnna Burt, the service’s deputy chief of space operations for operations, cyber and nuclear forces, said Jan. 5 the strategy will address how commercial systems could be used to fill capability gaps and provide backup capability when needed. It will also consider how the Space Force can rely more on industry to provide services — such as launch or satellite communications — rather than complete systems.
“What we’re trying to . . . make sure we capture in the strategy is how do we get after buying some of these capabilities, particularly something like SATCOM, as a commodity rather than, ‘I’ve got to own and operate the entire satellite,’” Burt said during a webinar hosted by the Mitchell Institute.
The Space Force’s strategy and programs office submitted an initial commercial space strategy last fall for approval from Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman. Saltzman sent it back, requesting more detail on what services and products the Space Force wants to buy from commercial companies.
The service in recent years has increased its focus on strengthening its partnership with commercial and industry. Officials have called for the acquisition workforce to consider opportunities to buy services and systems from industry — rather than build a bespoke government satellite — wherever possible. And last year, it established a Commercial Space Office aimed at helping it better integrate these capabilities across its mission areas.
Burt said this push is rooted, in part, in a recognition that the Space Force needs to invest in strengthening the space industrial base.
“The space domain has not necessarily had a very large industrial base in the past because . . . it was primarily the government running those capabilities,” she said. “Now that you see entrepreneurs and commercial companies going into the domain and more nations are also spacefaring nations, you’re starting to see that industrial base build.”
It’s in the Space Force’s interest, she added, to draw from that industrial base wherever possible.
Defending commercial satellites
One area where the Space Force must continue to engage with industry, Burt said, is in determining how to defend commercial space assets during conflict.
Some companies may be concerned about choosing a side and may opt not to have the U.S. defend their systems, she noted, while others may want assurance that their satellites will be prioritized. At the same time, the Space Force wants assurance that those commercial systems will be available in wartime.
Those questions need to be answered in the contract negotiation process, Burt said.
The Defense Department must also consider its own process for prioritizing commercial satellites in wartime. While the military has a process in place for identifying “critical assets” requiring protection during conflict, it needs to determine where commercial satellites and services fit within those priorities.
“Those will all be considerations as we move forward,” Burt said.
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.