Space Force and Commercial Solutions: Army's Satellite Communications Pilot Program

Space Force and Commercial Solutions: Army's Satellite Communications Pilot Program

In a significant development, the U.S. Army has entered into contracts with DRS Global Solutions and Intelsat for a long-awaited pilot program aimed at acquiring satellite communications services. This program marks a departure from traditional procurement methods, adopting a model reminiscent of how individuals subscribe to mobile phone plans.

The core of this initiative is to provide commercial Satellite Communications (SATCOM) subscription services, offering comprehensive coverage in various locations, versatile terminals, ample bandwidth, and the option for training tailored to the unit's needs. Additionally, a dedicated help desk service will be available. The ultimate goal is to establish a managed subscription service or marketplace for SATCOM capabilities that are currently employed in the private sector. This marketplace will function as a contractual vehicle with a 12-month scope for funding allocation.

The Satellite Communications (SATCOM) as a Managed Service (SaaMS) pilot program has a broader mission — it intends to inform the Army's decision-making process regarding the potential utilization of commercially leased SATCOM network services. These services would be adaptable and customizable to meet changing mission requirements, a contrast to the traditional approach of procuring, fielding, and sustaining in-house equipment. Recently, the Army announced the award of the actual contract, marking a pivotal moment in this endeavor.

Colonel Stuart McMillan, project manager for PEO C3T’s Tactical Network, emphasized the potential benefits of the SaaMS business model. It could efficiently support soldiers in diverse locations with varying mission challenges, particularly during large-scale combat operations. Moreover, it offers opportunities for rapid tech insertions and the ability to address surge requirements effectively.

The pilot program is scheduled to commence in the first quarter of fiscal year 2024 across several global regions. If successful, the Army plans to adopt a multi-vendor approach, providing additional opportunities for vendors not initially part of the pilot program.

Space Force and Commercial Solutions: Army's Satellite Communications Pilot Program

Crucially, the SaaMS model is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, it can be tailored to a wide variety of different missions and threats, reflecting the Army's commitment to flexibility and versatility.

This development in satellite communication procurement aligns with a broader trend in the U.S. military. Commercial SATCOM providers have long advocated for a shift away from sporadic bandwidth purchases towards service contracts. Prominent SATCOM providers, including Hughes, Viasat, Intelsat, Inmarsat, SES, and Eutelsat, argue that this approach will not only address service gaps that have affected troops but also prove cost-effective and facilitate the rapid integration of new technology.

The U.S. Space Force, through its Commercial Space Office (COMSO) and the Space Warfighting Analysis Center, has been actively working to shift its acquisition strategy towards greater reliance on commercial solutions, particularly embracing the SaaMS concept.

COMSO's Commercial Satellite Communications Office has a history of procuring SATCOM services from providers like Iridium, acting as an intermediary between SATCOM providers and military users. In a notable development, contracts for communications services from proliferated low Earth orbit satellites were awarded to 16 providers, including DRS and Intelsat. This five-year commitment, with indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contracts guaranteeing a minimum of $2,000, positions these vendors for future task orders.

The Pentagon is also exploring strategies to enhance commercial space integration. This effort includes initiatives led by Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman and Air Force Assistant Secretary for Space Acquisition and Integration Frank Calvelli. Despite these endeavors, the shift towards greater reliance on commercial satellite services within the Space Force has been gradual.

Commercial SATCOM firms are closely monitoring the Army's efforts in this domain, alongside a similar pilot program conducted by the Marine Corps. Interestingly, while the Marine Corps has pursued an independent path for its pilot program, the Army has chosen to collaborate with COMSO to facilitate contracting through the existing Commercial Satellite Communications (COMSATCOM) Subscription Services contract managed by the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) and the Defense Information Technology Contracting Organization. This decision reflects the evolving landscape of satellite communication procurement.

In conclusion, the U.S. Army's groundbreaking Satellite Communications Pilot Program, in partnership with DRS Global Solutions and Intelsat, heralds a new era in SATCOM acquisition, embracing a commercial subscription-based model. As this initiative progresses, it aligns with broader efforts within the U.S. military, particularly the Space Force, to explore commercial solutions for satellite communication needs. The future holds promise for enhanced flexibility, efficiency, and adaptability in meeting the communication requirements of military operations.

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