I recently had the opportunity to attend the SATELLITE 2015 Conference in Washington, D.C. While the conference brought satellite communications, hardware and services companies together with a wide range of prospective customers from across a range of industries and markets, the federal government was also well represented.
Not surprisingly, the conversations, presentations and panel discussions with, and between, commercial satellite service providers and government decision-makers often strayed from the satellite communication requirements of the federal government and trends driving innovation into the realm of acquisition reform and the ways in which the US federal government purchases commercial satellite services.
Ultimately, what we heard from all of the commercial satellite service providers in attendance at the SATELLITE 2015 Conference was that the government needs to work more collaboratively with private industry to meet its communications requirements. To do this, a shift must occur. Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) aptly noted during a panel discussion on Hosted Payloads that, “Government ought not be doing things that the private sector can do.” That message resonated with the innovative and responsive commercial SATCOM industry, particularly SES Space and Defense.
To the Congressman’s point; commercial industry is poised to offer a key enabler to the U.S. Government in terms of hosted payload opportunities. Hosted payloads offer the fastest and most cost-effective method of getting specialized communications equipment into orbit. The complementary and integrated military and commercial SATCOM environment is bolstered by the institutionalization of hosted payload efforts – an endeavor that will save taxpayer dollars.
To further those savings, commercial satellite operators and the USG need to be fully integrated when discussing the nation’s intricate communications needs. To accomplish this, it’s absolutely critical that the DoD establish a single SATCOM manager framework that can work all SATCOM issues, commercial and military, from funding through to operations. A single “mission manager” will be well-suited to plan and procure BOTH military and civilian SATCOM solutions – focusing the use of and maximizing the return on each taxpayer dollar.
To further maximize efficiency, planning and programming for baseline commercial SATCOM requirements is a must. The DoD only leases commercial satellite capacity using higher-cost, short-term spot-market contracts. If the Department were instead to calculate a baseline of how much commercial satellite capacity they needed and plan, program, budget and contract for those services on a long-term basis, the cost for these services would be drastically reduced.
By utilizing a longer-term buying strategy, commercial satellite service providers are incentivized towards future investments that ensure expanded capacity, mitigating risk and ensuring that requirements can be satisfied across the spectrum of Department requirements.
“We must establish alternative acquisition paths to get innovative capabilities to our warfighters.”
-Senator John McCain (R-AZ)
Ultimately, the DoD will never be able to meet warfighter demand for bandwidth using solely government-owned-and-operated satellites. Commercial satellite services are essential for connecting the military today – and will remain so into the future. However, based on the conversations and discussions at this year’s SATELLITE Conference, it’s clear that the U.S. Government’s acquisition of commercial satellite services must continue to evolve and mature.
For more ideas on how to positively impact the acquisition process for commercial satellite services across the federal government, read, “Seven Ways to Make the DoD a Better Buyer of Commercial SATCOM,” by clicking HERE.