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“We want to leverage commercial as much as possible,” says PEO for Space Domain Awareness and Combat Power

17th June 2024 - 21:35 GMT | by Flavia Camargos Pereira in Kansas City

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USSF-52 carrying a X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle. (Photo: US Space Force)

The priorities the US Space Force should consider when optimising commercial solutions across the spectrum of conflict have been laid out as well as how the branch can achieve integration before a crisis.

The US Space Force (USSF) has been seeking ways to enhance the use of commercial technologies across its inventory as solutions available in the market can enable the branch to rapidly access cutting-edge capabilities, increase interoperability and enhance resilience for the joint force.

In a recent webinar conducted by the US-based think tank CSIS, COL Bryon McClain, programme executive officer (PEO) for Space Domain Awareness and Combat Power within Space Systems Command, claimed this type of capability was “critical”.

“We want to leverage commercial as much as possible,” McClain pointed out. “It then becomes incumbent upon us to understand the commercial business case so that we can use commercial [tech].”

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Shannon Pallone, the PEO for Battle Management Command, Control and Communications at Space Systems Command, explained that were “a lot of amazing tools at our disposal that we also didn't necessarily have in the past” to access commercial solutions.

“If I look at a contracting mechanism, like other transaction agreements, I actually have an ability to get to a non-traditional, commercial partner,” Pallone highlighted.

The approach aligned with the DoD Commercial Space Integration Strategy. Released in April, it intends to drive more effective integration of commercial space solutions into national security space architectures.

The paper focused on top-level priorities that could ensure access to commercial solutions across the spectrum of conflict. It also looked at how to achieving integration before a crisis, establish security conditions to integrate commercial space solutions and supporting the development of new commercial space solutions for use by the joint force.

It aimed to support the US to deny adversaries the benefits of attacks against national security space systems and contribute to a safe, secure, stable and sustainable space domain.

“Deeper integration of commercial space solutions represents a conceptual shift away from legacy practices in which the Department has relied on bespoke, DoD-specific capabilities and limited the use of commercial solutions,” the strategy stated. 

“Given the expansion of the commercial space sector and the proliferation of space capabilities, the Department will benefit by making commercial solutions integral – and not just supplementary – to national security space architectures.”

From McClain’s perspective, it is “all about resiliency, about ensuring that our systems are able to operate no matter what is going on, given that space has become a contested environment”.

Pentagon’s Milstar Satellite Communications System. (Photo: US Space Force)

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are among commercial capabilities that can provide operation advantages by rapidly analysing large amounts of information from multiple sensors.

“It is [about] offering decision quality data to decision makers so that they can make decisions so that they can move on and decide what the actions are that they want to take,” Pallone explained.

Under such a scenario, commercial technologies could also be used to accelerate modernisation processes for in-service space capabilities over their life circle.

“We don't necessarily have time to start another 10-to-20-year acquisition programme to do a major upgrade,” McClain added. “We have to be able to keep up with technology.”

In its Commercial Space Integration Strategy, the DoD stressed that “purchasing commercial solutions instead of designing purpose-built government systems may present trade-offs between the speed of fielding a capability and the security of that system”.

The paper, however, added that the Pentagon “recognises there is risk in not integrating commercial solutions and in failing to capitalise on the commercial sector’s technological innovation and speed” and “will work with commercial entities to mitigate risk as necessary and accept risk where appropriate”.

In order to fund its activities over FY2025, the USSF requested US$29.4 billion with $6.2 billion going to commercial space launches and a resilient space data network to deliver capabilities to the joint force in, from and to space.

Another $4.3 billion was proposed for the procurement and modernisation programmes to properly equip defence personnel in space. Those funds will cover the development of satellite communications (SATCOM) systems capable of operating through contested and degraded environments.

Flavia Camargos Pereira

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Flavia Camargos Pereira


Flavia Camargos Pereira is a North America editor at Shephard Media. She joined the company …

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