Government-industry partnership essential for resilience in space


Rebecca M. Cowen-Hirsch, Inmarsat Senior Vice President for Government Strategy and Policy, U. S. Government Business Unit, discusses the urgency for more collaboration between commercial satellite service providers and federal agencies, especially in the interest of resiliency in space.

It is clear to me that the U.S. government’s top leaders and lawmakers are increasingly committed to a groundbreaking satellite service model, one which would foster a government-industry partnership to augment military satellite communication capabilities while optimizing resiliency in space. Such a partnership would support seamless satellite-enabled connectivity and functionality and enhance the governments’ integrated SATCOM architecture, ensuring the government can operate in all environments.

In this blog post, I contend that a fully realized Department of Defense (DoD) and commercial satellite service providers’ collaboration would remove inefficient, siloed acquisition procedures and practices in favor of a more streamlined, consolidated model to enhance the resiliency, as well as the capability and flexibility of systems. In particular, there are numerous recent developments as a testimony to the rapidly building momentum for the partnership I describe:

  • Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) formally introduced his proposed American Space Renaissance Act, which he has described as a “Sputnik moment” intended to advance the “incentivizing (of) industry to innovate and thrive here in the United States”. In seeking to overcome impediments to a commercial partnership in space, the act would encourage government agencies to purchase more services – such as communications, remote sensing and weather data – from private satellite operators. The act would authorize $27 million to competitively award no less than four contracts. Ultimately, consolidation is the goal here. “It seems like within the national space enterprise, there is a Department of Defense space enterprise, a commercial space enterprise, a civil space enterprise,” Bridenstine said, in introducing the bill. “There doesn’t seem to be one national space enterprise. What we’re trying to do is to bring a lot of elements together and make sure that in the end, the technologies being advanced are relevant to all the different enterprises that exist. That’s the goal of this.”

Lawmakers are already incorporating some of the bill’s language into this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), including the implementation of preliminary steps needed to transfer space situational awareness oversight from the DoD to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), as part of a broader plan to eventually hand over space traffic management duties to the FAA.

At Inmarsat, we feel that, by paving the way for industry-enabled satellite services, agencies will benefit through greater capability, reliability, security and affordability. Also, the consolidation of space management under the FAA will help establish cohesion and clarity to what has traditionally been a highly scattered, dysfunctional space acquisition/oversight environment.

  • Doug Loverro, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, said during an interview at the 32nd Space Symposium that the Pentagon is in the early stages of revising its space policy for the first time in more than three years, in response to recommendations from the 2014 Space Strategic Portfolio Review. In large part, the changes are intended to better utilize commercial offerings to protect military and spy satellites – a mandate for a level of resilience in space that ensures the Pentagon has access to national security satellites at all times, and can operate them within any situation, including an attack. “Our job right now is to figure out how do we create policies that enhance rather than hamper” the DoD’s space capabilities, Loverro said.

Through the increased acquisition of available capabilities via an industry partnership, the DoD can “harmonize policy and the use of commercial space,” Loverro said. His words speak to positions which the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security advocated in its September 2015 white paper, titled “Space Domain Mission Assurance: A Resilience Taxonomy.”

The paper listed diversification as a primary driver of resilience. “Diversification is defined as contributing to the same mission in multiple ways, using different platforms, different orbits, or systems and capabilities of commercial, civil, or international partners,” according to the paper.

At Inmarsat, we work with government leaders so they can build satellite architectures that fortify operational resiliency within the most adverse of conditions, while taking advantage of the best available connectivity and functionality by combining the best of what private industry and the public sector have to offer.

  • U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work stressed in a recent interview the importance of a number of DoD initiatives as part of a continuing “call to arms”. This includes the creation of the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center (JICSpOC) to expand collaboration between the DoD and Intelligence Community (IC) and the naming of Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James as principal DoD space adviser (PDSA).

“For most of the last 20 years in the post-Cold War period we viewed space as a sanctuary,” Work said. “We now believe if we ever got into a war, war would extend into space because it provides our warfighting force with such enormous advantages and all of our potential competitors know that. We now assume our space constellation will be under threat from the earliest moment. If that’s the case, then you have to be able to fight through attacks … The JICSpOC assumes unity of effort.”

Inmarsat is proud to support such efforts through its ongoing participation in the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC)-launched Commercial Integration Cell (CIC) pilot program, so private industry and the military can work together to improve the rapid identification and resolution of on-orbit anomalies while also increasing the overall resilience of U.S. satellite operations.

“We can no longer think of space as a sanctuary,” Work said during the interview. “You have to think about space resilience, which means the ability for a constellation to survive attacks. You have to think about battle management command and control. And, of course, you have to remember the whole reason we put stuff in space is to help people on Earth. If you lose that, you lose a big advantage.”

  • In addition to the key points outlined above, it is also important to note that according to the FY16 NDAA, the Secretary of Defense shall conduct an analysis of alternatives (AoA) for a follow-on wideband communications system to the Wideband Global SATCOM System that includes space, air and ground layer communications capabilities and to designate a single, senior DoD official to procure wideband SATCOM. It also approves a pilot program through which the Secretary of Defense would deploy a variety of methods to “effectively and efficiently acquire commercial satellite communications services.” The submitted plan required by March 2017 must include a detailed cost assessment of SATCOM services, to include projected costs savings of such a consolidation.

Work conveys Inmarsat’s sentiments perfectly here, because we build our satellite systems with government users in mind– wherever they are, whenever they need us – through the best satellite technologies available.

Inmarsat offers the first worldwide end-to-end wideband solution – Global Xpress – provided by a single operator and our SATCOM as a Service model is ideally suited for the type of business models the government is exploring and leans forward to a future mutually beneficial arrangement that adds greater efficiencies and responsiveness to the DoD than antiquated fixed leases. This approach enables U.S. government users and allies can turn to MILSATCOM for core requirements, then seamlessly integrate commercial technologies to fill in all gaps to achieve protection, resiliency and global portability. SATCOM as a service is a way forward to achieve this vision.

A strong, forward-looking partnership between the government and satellite industry is required in order to ensure that available commercial SATCOM solutions are fully considered as part of the recapitalization process to ensure that the warfighter has robust and globally accessible satellite capability available when needed.

Through these recent developments, we are collectively taking significant steps toward this goal of creating government-industry partnership to improve resilience in space. Steps that will hopefully lead to extraordinary outcomes. And I will be happy to update you on continued developments in future blog postings here.

About the author

Rebecca M. Cowen-Hirsch is Inmarsat Senior Vice President for Government Strategy and Policy in the United States Government (USG) Business Unit, based in Washington. Ms. Cowen-Hirsch brings 25 years of defense, aerospace, and executive leadership experience to Inmarsat. As a decorated member of the Senior Executive Service (SES) in the U.S. Department of Defense, she served as the Program Executive Officer for SATCOM, Teleport and Services at the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) and in several key SES executive positions including the first Vice Component Acquisition Executive for DISA, with executive management responsibility for the acquisition oversight and horizontal integration of DISA’s products, services, and programs. Ms Cowen-Hirsch established the Defense Spectrum Office, serving as its first Director where her responsibilities included the development of national security spectrum strategic plans and policy, and national and international negotiation of defense spectrum issues. Her broad defense career ranged from systems engineering, experimental flight test, program management, spectrum management, and a wide range of executive leadership positions. Ms. Cowen-Hirsch was a rated experimental flight test engineer; was the first female civilian Mission Commander for the Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft (ARIA) mission, and was the recipient of an Exemplary Service Medal for her years of selfless service to the Department of Defense. Ms Cowen-Hirsch has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering, conducted post-graduate studies in Engineering Management, and is a graduate of the University of Tennessee Space Institute Experimental Flight Test Program; the DoD’s Acquisition Management Program; and the Cambridge Senior Executive Leadership Program.