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The Critical Link

CASR – Will the DoD Truly Walk the Walk?

Image of the Earth from space with many low earth orbit satellites overhead

The theatre of space is going through a period of rapid change. Geopolitical competition has upset the stability space has enjoyed for decades, and in the process has put the superiority of American capabilities in question.

Governments around the world are prioritizing how space factors into national security, and how government and the private sector can work together to improve space capabilities and resiliency. An important part of this process is known as the Commercial Augmentation Space Reserves, or CASR.

Senior DoD officials have been making positive comments in trade publications about working more collaboratively with commercial providers. Lt. Gen. DeAnna Burt, the Space Force’s deputy chief for operations, cyber and nuclear, was quoted in SpaceNews recently:

“How do you buy surge?” she asked. “Commercial providers have to balance the needs of many customers. I want to make sure that we’re looking through all the lenses and the commercial guys need to have a voice on this.”

It’s very encouraging to hear such sentiments. The objective of CASR is to outline ways for DoD to partner with commercial space companies so their services and resources can be accessed during national emergencies, parallel to existing Air Force and Navy reserve fleets, which allow for non-military planes and ships to be called up in times of need. Done correctly, it can be an important part of improving U.S. capability and resiliency in space.

But that’s the key qualifier – if it’s done correctly, and if action follows words. For years, the military has relied upon commercial space capacity. Too many times they “talked the talk” regarding valuing commercial without “walking the walk.” We’re no closer to a true partnership in space than we were a decade ago.

What happened around improving security of commercial satellites is a sobering example of taking encouraging words at face value. The Infrastructure Asset Pre-Approval Program, or IA-Pre, is an objective cybersecurity risk assessment process for key self-nominated COMSATCOM assets measured against National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) controls/enhancements. IA-Pre offers an opportunity for commercial satellite partners to target investments in additional, specific cybersecurity capabilities valued by the Department of Defense (DoD) community.

Several space operators were (and could still be) willing to invest time and resources to comply with these stronger cybersecurity requirements. The promise was that the government would follow through with preferential scoring for meeting those security requirements on the source selection/procurement side. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Providers who made no investment in IA-PRE continued to receive contracts on the basis of price when competing against those satellites that had invested in IA-Pre safeguards.

Once again, commercial providers played Charlie Brown to the DoD’s Lucy, pulling the football away at the last minute. I have always been impressed with the way commercial satellite operators have been willing to support DoD missions and have invested in a number of IA-Pre and other cyber protection capabilities. Few other countries can boast the same sort of support from their industrial partners, and few other sectors have done so as effectively as the satellite operator community. If we allow this sort of experience to repeat itself with CASR, we will have failed. As policy and funding get built around the program, we recommend the following points be considered:

  • Traffic Prioritization– Next-generation LEO platforms can assign prioritization classes to services on the network, a critical feature for geographies with high congestion on the network. This will increase the overall availability and resilience of managed SATCOM services for the DoD.
  • Virtual Reservation – In some LEO networks like Telesat Lightspeed, the government can reserve a global surge capacity pool, which can be immediately activated in any area of responsibility (AOR) in the world.
  • Debunk “Free vs. Fee” – There is a tendency for military consumers of SATCOM to view the bandwidth from a government system as “free,” while commercial SATCOM is seen as an operating expense. Nothing is, of course, free – taxpayer money pays for government systems. Assigning some kind of “allocated cost” to government SATCOM – whether actually charged or not – would create a truer measure of equivalency and encourage use of CASR resources. In a challenging budget environment, it’s important that the DoD obtain the best SATCOM capability per dollar spent.
  • Collaborative Demand Planning – An effective CASR would include frequent,  collaborative, senior-level demand planning. Rather than one annual DISA meeting, the DoD should engage in quarterly demand driver insights with security-cleared participants from the commercial SATCOM operators.

Hopefully, a true partnership can be fostered by addressing these points collaboratively sooner rather than later. Near-peer adversaries and allies alike are pouring billions into improving their capabilities in space. The DoD must change its culture and truly welcome advanced commercial technology into its architecture and procurement planning – there is simply too much additional flexibility and capability out there to ignore.

Enterprise-class LEO services deliver low latency bandwidth with the same user experience as fiber networks. Proliferated LEO architectures provide increased resiliency and security, are more difficult to disrupt, and easier and faster to replenish than GEO systems. Since the first Gulf War the commercial industry has sought a stronger partnership with government partners. Realities in space today have made such a partnership a national security necessity.

The situation is too critical for just words. It’s time for the DoD to walk the walk and make CASR a powerful reality.

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