Such concepts could find their way into the fiscal 2015 budget process, says Rich McKinney, deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for space. One Air Force official suggests there are also hybrid approaches, such as proposing a less expensive lease option in the long term, as a compromise to Congress, while continuing smaller spot buys on an annual basis as well.
The Defense Business Board's recommendations include: a buy-to-lease option; capital lease (for up to 10 years); service provided by NASA or the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration as an anchor tenant; indefeasible right-of-use agreement; long-term multi-year arrangement; or hosted payloads augmenting a constellation.
There are numerous legislative barriers to such deals, though, and the Pentagon itself is ill-structured to handle them, says the Defense Business Board. Among the barriers are arrangements longer than one year, which obligate a future Congress without its express consent. But the hurdles are not insurmountable, as the Pentagon frequently proposes and uses multi-year deals for services and the purchase of aircraft and vehicles—most of which provide per-unit savings. The Defense Business Board estimates that a capital lease for up to 10 years could save the Pentagon $100 million annually.
Options that require a chunk of upfront funding with a promise of future cost avoidance are a tough sell in this budget environment, which is focused on simply looking for savings in the near term.
These and other approaches could be better handled if the Pentagon were to appoint a single point of contact for both the commercial industry and Congress. “From an outside view, it appears the current roles and responsibilities are ambiguous,” the board finds.
One industry expert notes that U.S. forces in the Pacific have more than adequate fiber communications. But ships, special operators and aircraft operating there also need to be able to access high-speed systems. WGS- 1 and -4 are already serving the Pacific Command; WGS-3 is serving the burgeoning Africa Command.
Some defense officials cite concern about a lack of capacity in the South Pacific should a military engagement erupt there, indicating a potential area for innovation in contracting. By contrast, there is less fiber in Africa, and the vastness of the continent points to a hearty use of satellite communications as the Pentagon continues operations there.
In the meantime, the Pentagon is focusing on the use of its military Ka-band capability with the population of the WGS constellation that handles communications in the military Ka and X bands. The advent of military Ka-band capability is the newest for the department's wideband fleet, and it provides high data rates for users.
More than 4,000 WGS-compatible X- and Ka-band terminals have been fielded, and they are also compatible with commercial Ku-band signals. The Pentagon is also planning to certify another 29 Ka-band terminal systems for use with WGS soon, Madden says. These terminals range from portable, tactical applications to fixed gateways with dishes as large as 12.2 meters (40 ft.). By contrast, about 700 DSCS terminals are in use.