The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has a strong appetite for small satellite technology, according to Arsenio (Bong) Gumahad II, director of the C4ISR Division, Information and Integration Portfolio Management, with the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (OUSD) for Acquisition and Sustainment.

Gumahad, who gave a keynote address Sept. 24 at a Commercial Space Policy Breakfast hosted by USGF’s Small Satellite Working Group, provided an overview of what he described as “a small sat coordinating activity” underway at OUSD.

About a year ago, Gumahad explained, as part of the FY19 budget review process, OUSD wrote an issue paper that recognized potential inefficiencies in how the DoD is approaching small sat programs.

“We suspected, and the study documented, that there were multiple programs within the DoD and Intelligence Community (IC) that were being done independent of one another—with not a lot of cross-flow of information across the enterprise,” he said.  

As a result, OUSD’s three-phase coordinating activity is now working with stakeholders across DoD and the IC to identify ways to gain efficiencies in terms of budget, technology, and beyond.

In phase 1, the activity identified 17 separate small sat programs across U.S. agencies and military services, ranging in focus from prototyping and communications to ISR and weather. One common thread was a lack of integration.

Now in phase 2, OUSD is “drilling down into more detail” and examining ways for DoD to provide some common services across the board, Gumahad said. Primary focus areas are command and control, PED capabilities, and launch.

“For each element we are expanding the scope to see how the Department can best offer services.” he said, adding a major priority for phase 2 and 3 will be to make the U.S. small sat launch base more successful.

OUSD made two significant findings in reviewing the health of the nation’s small sat launch business, according to Gumahad:

  1. Of the more than 50 U.S.-based companies claiming to offer small sat launch capabilities, there are only a “handful” OUSD considers viable in terms of financial backing, technology demonstration, and prototype testing.
  2. Of all DoD and IC small sats expected to launch between now and 2028, only 17% require a single-use launch capability—the rest are ripe for ride-sharing.

In addition, foreign competition is a growing concern.

“A lot of these companies are actually being subsidized by their own government, offering inexpensive launch rides,” Gumahad said.

Moving forward, OUSD is looking at ways to “incentivize the industrial base, specifically for launch services” and to demonstrate a strong DoD “demand signal.”

“The goal is to develop a roadmap not only for technology, but in terms of capabilities we would like to see from a DoD standpoint in the five- to 10-year timeframe,” Gumahad concluded. “To show where we’re going, to signal the fact that this is an area of interest for DoD, and that we want to keep it in the U.S.”

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Posted by Kristin Quinn