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Pentagon Orders Study of Commercial Satcom Opportunities, Barriers

Ashton Carter. Credit: DoD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

WASHINGTON — Citing missed opportunities to utilize the commercial satellite telecom sector, the Pentagon’s No. 2 official has asked an independent advisory panel to look into the matter and identify possible ways to fix the problem.

In a memo dated Sept. 3, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter directed the Defense Business Board to identify opportunities, obstacles and corrective actions related to leveraging private-sector satellite communications capabilities. The board advises the Pentagon on effective business practices as they apply to military activities.

According to the memo, the Pentagon is frequently approached by companies offering “highly desirable and time-sensitive commercial satellite communication capabilities” that often require an up-front funding commitment for a multiyear period. The Defense Department (DoD) has been unable to take advantage, either because of inflexible procurement procedures or a “culture that appears to resist dependence on commercial providers for satellite services,” the memo says.

A copy of the memo was obtained by SpaceNews.

“Some obstacles, like congressional funding and other statutory restrictions … are beyond our control; however, there may be some changes in existing regulations processes that could allow DoD to better leverage opportunities from the commercial satellite service providers,” Carter wrote.

The study task force will examine opportunities including expedited methods of acquiring commercial satellite capabilities and services, the memo says. “Examples of space goods and services include but are not limited to: payloads hosted on commercial satellites, service-level agreements for commercially provided space-based capabilities,” the memo says.

The roadblocks identified in the memo include legal, cultural, administrative and programmatic. Specific examples include restrictions against multiyear funding commitments and the need by some vendors for an initial upfront commitment so they can obtain private-sector financing for their projects, the memo says.

The task force should identify ways to overcome these barriers to make commercial satellite capabilities more widely available to Pentagon users, the memo says. “The corrective actions should specify which actions can be accomplished within existing legal authorities, and which actions require a change to existing statutes, regulations or processes,” Carter wrote.

The memo did not specify a due date for the study results. A spokesman for Carter could not immediately be reached for comment.

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