Can the Army be more innovative with satellite communications?

Lt. Gen. Michael Williamson is the officer in charge of all purchasing decisions for the United States Army. The three-star general recently sat down with Defense News to discuss the Army’s fiscal year 2017 budget, his priorities for the fiscal year and trends in Army procurement.

Inevitably, the conversation shifted to innovation, and the Army’s desire to invest in innovative new technologies and solutions designed to increase efficiency and decrease costs. Lt. Gen. Williams had a very interesting response when asked how he defined innovation:

One of the things that I have tried to do is ask people to think about problems differently. How do we look at the world differently? If I can use something differently and I can do that for a dollar, as opposed to buying something new for $100, I consider that to be innovative.

More simply, Lt. Gen. Williams implies innovation doesn’t always require reinventing the wheel, or creating revolutionary new technologies. Innovation can be a simple, creative or more effective way to utilize an existing capability to increase operational efficiency.  Innovation can be any change helping the Army better achieve its mission and while saving money.

I agree with LTG Williamson’s view of innovation.  I also believe there is a multitude of ways the Army can be innovative. One such area is in the realm of commercial satellite communications (COMSATCOM).

The Army relies heavily on COMSATCOM for multiple missions. COMSATCOM provides data on the battlefield. It allows execution of Army UAV missions. It even delivers distance learning and training initiatives. COMSATCOM is used in these capacities because terrestrial networks are often unavailable or unreliable in theater, on the battlefield and in geographically isolated areas where the Army operates.

The freedom and battlefield architecture COMSATCOM services deliver are not without cost.  However, there is an innovative way that the Army can get these services at a fraction of the cost by eliminating the commercial marketplace competition.

In a previous article on the GovSat Report, we took an in-depth look at a satellite offering known as, “inclined satellites,” or, “inclined capacity.” Effectively, these services utilize older satellites approaching their end of life that have been allowed to drift out of their geostationary orbits above the equator to help reduce fuel usage and enable them to operate for a longer period of time.

As we discussed previously, inclined satellites have little value in the commercial market.  They necessitate the use of tracking antennas, capable of staying with the satellite as it changes position, which are common in most instances of Army use – such as the UAS missions and WIN-T. In contrast, the commercial market relies on inexpensive, small antennas, which can be left unattended pointing at a particular point in the sky. This makes inclined capacity readily available for use by the Army – simple supply and demand. Because of this low demand, inclined capacity is sold at a fraction of the price – more than 50% less in most cases.

The use of inclined satellites is a great example of the Department of Defense’s “Better Buying Power” initiative launched in 2010. Better Buying Power (BBP) is the implementation of best practices to strengthen the Defense Department’s buying power, improve industry productivity, and provide an affordable, value-added military capability to the Warfighter.

Other branches of the military, including the Air Force and Navy, have already taken advantages of the cost savings from inclined satellites. It’s time for the Army to get innovative and follow their lead.

For more information on inclined satellites and their benefits, download the whitepaper, “How inclined capacity reduces costs for the U.S. government,” by clicking HERE.

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