Space Force ‘days away’ from releasing its commercial strategy

The upcoming strategy will provide a roadmap for how the Space Force plans to purchase commercial space capabilities.

The Space Force is about to release a strategy that lays out what exactly the service needs from the space industry and how it plans to approach procurement and integration of commercial capabilities.

Lt. Gen. DeAnna Burt, deputy chief of space operations for operations, cyber, and nuclear, said on Jan. 5 that the document will focus on how the industry can fill capability gaps that Air Force and Space Force systems don’t meet. It will also provide details on where the service wants to see new technologies.

“We are days away, hopefully, from signing a commercial strategy,” Burt said at an event hosted by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

The other part of the strategy will address how the Space Force can buy something as a service rather than purchasing a new space capability.

“Working with the commercial [sector] to build a satellite, or a rocket, or a ‘thing’ is how we’ve historically worked. How do we start to think about buying things as a service?” Burt said. “I don’t have to own the satellite. I don’t have to own those things. I just write a contract and buy a certain level of service from you. I think what we’re trying to also 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.'”

The strategy has been a year in the making, and the initial version went to Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman for approval last September. Upon reviewing the draft, Saltzman sent the strategy back, requesting a more comprehensive roadmap for the industry on how it can work with the Space Force.

Last year, the Space Force established a Commercial Space Office to foster partnerships with the booming space industry and better leverage commercial space capabilities to improve the DoD’s space architecture.

Burt said that the move will help the Space Force invest in space infrastructure and bolster the space defense industrial base.

“Every domain has an industrial base that supports them. The space domain has not necessarily had a very large base in the past because, again, the cost of entry, and typically, it was primarily the government running those capabilities,” she said.

“Now that you see entrepreneurs and commercial vendors going into the domain and more nations are also spacefaring nations, you’re starting to see that industrial base start to build. So in our interests, I believe we should allow the work in every domain in every gap that we have because the more we build from an industrial base, again, it goes back to that competitive endurance. I have more resilience because I have an ability to fill a gap if it’s taken out in combat,” she said.

Protecting commercial satellites in conflict

Space Force officials continue to have conversations with the industry about how to defend commercial capabilities in space should a conflict ensue.

Burt said that some companies might want to align themselves with the department to protect their assets, given their large DoD customer base. At the same time, some companies want to stay neutral without taking sides in a conflict since they might have customers on both sides.

“Those are all conversations that we’ve had in those war games,” Burt said.

And given the proliferation of commercial technologies in space, all those caveats will need to be addressed during contract negotiation.

“I think now as we continue to move forward, and as we’ve seen commercial capabilities used in the Ukraine conflict, and what has happened, there’s been a significant growth in the use,” Burt said. “How do you write contracts that say, ‘Hey, if I have capability onboard your satellite, or I’m going to buy a service , how do I write that contractually in a way that there’s a certain standard of you’re going to ensure me delivery? And then if I need to defend you – or there becomes an issue where I need to defend you – are you willing to work with that?”

At the same time, DoD will have to determine its own ability to defend commercial capabilities and where exactly they fall on the department’s ‘critical asset’ list.

“As we move forward for the future, where do those commercial capabilities fall on their critical asset list? And where did they fall then on the defended asset list, based on what capacity we have to defend? So those will all be considerations as we move forward in the future,” Burt said.

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