In the midst of the holiday season, on December 21, 2020, Brigadier General Brook Leonard of the U.S. Space Command joined the Mitchell Institute’s Space Power Forum. This event, which was held a day after the U.S. Space Force celebrated its first birthday, gave Brig. Gen. Leonard an opportunity to provide insights into the mission of the Space Command, the U.S.’s role in the space domain, and the Importance of space capabilities for modern military operations.
Protecting the space domain was a major focus of Brig. Gen. Leonard’s presentation. He positioned Space Force as the organization responsible for, “…protect[ing] and defend[ing] not only allies and partners, but also commercial and civil infrastructure for national security space.”
And there’s a very good reason why space – a previously benign domain that is becoming an austere environment – needs a defender. Capabilities powered by spacecraft and satellites are essential to both the general public and our military’s mission success. A fact that Brig. Gen. reinforced when he explained, “We need to go there to provide a secure environment, a stable environment, and the capability to preserve the American way of life that’s so intrinsically tied to our space capabilities.”
The U.S. military is increasingly reliant on satellites and satellite bandwidth to enable earth-bound missions. As network-enabled operations and military platforms become the norm, it’s absolutely essential for the military to protect this domain.
With the proliferation of network-connected military vehicles and weapons systems, and the massive ecosystem of sensors – including those that generate real-time HD video – for ISR capabilities and missions, satellite services are essential for keeping the warfighter on the ground both connected and informed. This gives our military a distinct tactical advantage over our adversaries.
Unfortunately, meeting the military’s satellite communications requirements has never been a fast and efficient process. The military has long relied on purpose-built, military-owned spacecraft for the delivery of satellite communications to theater – only relying on commercial satellite services to fill gaps in service. This reliance on purpose-built satellites that the military owns and operates both limits the speed at which the military acquires new spacecraft and innovation.
It typically takes years to approve, design and launch new MILSATCOM satellites. During this time, each of the large commercial satellite operators is building and launching multiple spacecraft with new, innovative technologies into orbit. This creates a situation where partnering with commercial operators effectively delivers more advanced and innovative satellite services and solutions than the military currently have available in their own MILSATCOM constellations. Making commercial satellite providers the innovators in space.
Partnering with commercial operators to build an integrated satellite architecture that relies upon both MILSATCOM satellites and commercial constellations will give the military immediate access to the most advanced, high-bandwidth and low-latency satellite communications services available.
The importance of this partnership was expressed by Brig. Gen. Leonard, who explained, “And it’s our responsibility to provide very clear, very warfighting-focused requirements that also harvest the technology and the capability and the ideas that these companies have, and an understanding of where they are going.”
This integrated commercial and MILSATCOM architecture isn’t a new idea. COMSATCOM is more than a blip on the radar across the DoD. And this concept has only gained traction and interest as satellite providers continue to introduce new and innovative satellite services – including satellites in new orbits, such as the SES O3b mPOWER MEO constellation.
With Space Command’s focus and acknowledgment of the necessity of partnerships beyond the DoD and governmental agencies, the promise of these advancements in technology is within reality. “And so, integrating on the commercial side on a very tactical, tangible level is really important…we see very fruitful opportunities as we integrate with commercial entities,” confirmed Leonard.
Embracing commercial SATCOM services as part of an integrated satellite architecture ensures that the latest satellite technologies are available to our military at a time when the need for high-throughput, low-latency connectivity to the tactical edge is more important than ever before.