Department of Defense Signals Increased Reliance on Commercial Space Industry

By Becky Leggieri   •
Credit: US Space Force, 39th Space Symposium, John Ayre

In early April, the Department of Defense released two long anticipated strategies to address integration of the commercial space industry into the national security space architecture. On April 2, the Defense Department’s first Commercial Space Integration Strategy was released. On April 10, The United States Space Force’s (USSF) Commercial Space Strategy was released by General Chance Saltzman, Chief of Space Operations, USSF at the 39th Space Symposium in Colorado. These two space-focused strategies joined a growing catalog of national security and space policy published in the 2020s. Both strategies set a path for using more commercial space sector innovation and emerging technologies, as well as sending a strong signal to the commercial space industry for greater integration of commercial space solutions into hybrid architectures that include U.S. government and allied solutions.

The Defense Department has learned where commercial technological advances that can solve military problems or enhance existing operations. Much like the rest of the department seeking commercial solutions to solve problems like connectivity, interoperability and data management, the national space community wants to invigorate the process for integration of commercial solutions to their space architectures. Traditionally, the National Security Space enterprise relied on defense- specific space capabilities built to exact specifications, using commercial solutions on a limited basis. No longer. As Secretary Austin writes in the forward of the Defense strategy, “Integrating commercial solutions, as opposed to merely augmenting existing government systems, will require a shift in the Department.”

The USSF takes this requirement seriously and states “the Space Force will pivot to a new model for integrating space solutions” through strengthening commercial and allied nations partnerships, and fielding hybrid space architectures combining Department of Defense, Commercial and allied space systems. The strategy provides guidance to integrate “commercial space solutions to deliver technological innovations that supplement or supplant existing government capabilities.”

Four principles guide both strategies:

  1. Balance—maintaining an equilibrium between government and commercial solutions and avoiding overreliance on one provider or solution.
  2. Interoperability—military standards and procedures should strengthen interoperability between government and commercial without smothering innovation, speed or scale by the private sector. Future purpose-built systems will consider using commercial standards and interfaces for commercial integration, when
  3. Resilience—prioritized and strengthened by increasing providers, diversifying supply chains, and expanding the types and quantity of solutions employed by the department.
  4. Responsible Conduct — adherence to international norms and standards as well as DoD’s Tenets of Responsible Behavior in Space.

The Space Force strategy outlines a more actionable approach to greater industry involvement than the DOD strategy and focuses on Four Lines of Effort (LOEs) to guide strategy implementation. They are: LOE #1—Collaborative Transparency, LOE#2—Operational and Technical Integration, LOE#3—Risk Management, and LOE#4—Secure the Future.

LOE#2—Operational and Tactical Integration addresses the development of policies, practices and procedures to “…allow the commercial sector to integrate data and hardware with the USSF…”. Eight mission areas are identified with a high-level description of requirements. These mission areas are Satellite Communications (SATCOM), Space Domain Awareness (SDA), Space Access, Mobility, and Logistics (SAML), Tactical Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Tracking (TacSRT), Space Based Environmental Monitoring (SBEM), Cyberspace Operations, Command and Control (C2), and Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT).

During “The State of the Space Force” podcast dated March 27, General Saltzman explained that the Space Force Commercial Strategy aims to create a common vocabulary in conversations with industry and establish clear investment priorities. One area the Space Force wants to maximize and optimize with industry, is a “set of categories for services, data and analytics.”

The Space Force LOEs align with DOD’s strategic priorities and approaches and include:

  • Ensure access to commercial space solutions across the spectrum of conflict
  • Achieve integration prior to crisis
  • Establish security conditions for integration of commercial space solutions, and
  • Support the development of new commercial space solutions for use by the Joint Force.

Together the Space Force’s LOEs seek to ensure access to technologies, surge capabilities, use of military force to protect commercial assets, and leverage the full range of financial, contractual, and policy tools to support new solutions.

If you read the strategy expecting to see answers to the most challenging problems of commercial integration…how much money is available for us to dole out for each mission area, you will be disappointed.

But, if you understand that effective integration will only come about with a common understanding of our priorities, the missions where we need help, our proposal evaluation criteria, and clear definitions of terms to enhance that collaboration…I think you will find the document useful…as a tool to drive process change, to shift our mindset and…to see the Space Force’s relationship with industry in a new light.

General Saltzman, Chief of Space Operations,
April 10, 2024

The “Consideration Criteria” the Space Force will use to assess capabilities, goods and services is a clear market signal to industry. The Space Force will consider four areas: Operational Utility, Feasibility, Resilience by Design, and Speed to Fielding. The “Opportunities for Industry” section organizes mission areas and the level of integration sought with commercial providers.

The Department’s strategy also addresses mission areas, dividing thirteen missions into three categories: Government Primary Mission Areas, Hybrid Mission Areas, and Commercial Primary Areas. The strategy identifies which mission areas are currently operating under what type of mission area, which could change in the future as requirements and technology mature.

Realistically, the Department’s strategy states, “There is inherent risk in commercial space integration.” However, with space becoming more contested and congested, the strategy rightly points out there is risk in not integrating commercial space capabilities. While both strategies emphasize taking advantage of innovation by commercial industry, scalability and rapid tech refresh rates are also desired capabilities.

The Space Force, established in 2019, requested $29.4 billion for FY25, including nearly $17 billion for research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) and $4 billion for procurement. The overall FY25 request is lower than the $30 billion FY24 request, though close to the FY24 enacted budget of $29.9 billion. This reflects in part the enactment of spending caps subsequent to the submission of the FY24 request. It also includes reductions in the FY25 request for specific line items including Space Technology Development and Prototyping, ($2.0 billion requested in FY24, $1.7 billion for FY25), and Next-Gen OPIR – Ground (FY24 request = $661M, FY25 request = $558 million). However, there are also areas of growth in the FY25 request, including Evolved Strategic SATCOM (ESS) and Resilient Missile Warning Missile Tracking – Low Earth Orbit (LEO) RDT&E lines.

Tracking congressional hearings on Space Force should yield some clues as to how the defense committees view the new strategies and which elements of the budget that support them are endorsed, particularly the RDT&E line item “Commercial SATCOM (COMSATCOM) Integration” where the FY24 request was $73.5 million and the appropriators provided $71.4 million. The FY25 request is $134.5 million, an 88.4% increase.