Officials at the newly re-established U.S. Space Command are structuring the organization to take better advantage of commercial space innovations, said Maj. Gen. Stephen Whiting, one of the command’s leaders.
The Combined Force Space Component Command, which plans space operations, has been working on creating so called “combat development divisions” to seek out and integrate new commercial technologies. Two weeks ago, U.S. Space Command dedicated a full-time position at its Combined Space Operations Center to foster greater cooperation between the military and commercial businesses on space operations.
The move is necessary because the reality facing the Department of Defense is that funding for space ventures is increasingly taking place in the private sector, Whiting said.
In response to this shift, military space leaders have been tasked with increasing information sharing and collaboration with commercial space operators. That effort started with the establishment of a commercial integration cell, a special group within the Combined Space Operations Center focused on maintaining strong interaction with commercial satellite owner/operators who provide services to the military.
Inspired by the success of the cell, U.S. Space Command established a full-time position that will work with companies to make follow-on agreements, codify procedures and explore creating additional CIC-like groups to encompass other areas of space operations such as space situational awareness.
Whiting serves as the head of the Combined Force Space Component Command and as the deputy commander of Air Force Space Command and spoke at the Mitchell Space Breakfast Series Nov. 15.
U.S. Space Command has also had to adapt to new acquisition models designed to harness commercial innovation, Whiting said. The command is working to form small teams focused on scouting for new technologies, based on the Combat Development Divisions pioneered by Special Operations Command. Brig. Gen. Wolf Davidson, who is Whiting’s No. 2 and the head of 14th Air Force, is leading the effort to adapt those models to space operations.
These efforts are already bearing fruit. The Combat Development Divisions have helped stand up the DoD’s first development platform for building and hosting cloud-native military software applications. The Combat Development Divisions have also been working with the Space and Missile Systems Center and the Air Force Research Laboratory to conduct the Air Force Space Pitch Days, an attempt to bring venture capital-style funding to space acquisitions.
“I believe they will not only improve CFSCC’s ability to innovate, they will also help our enterprise navigate through the uncertainty and technology disruption of the entrepreneurial space race, bringing down costs, schedule and performance risk to our enterprise along the way,” Whiting said. “We consider this to be a critical task and priority for U.S. Space Command and I think it will continue to be a strategic imperative for our future."
These changes are fueled by a shift in space innovation from the government sector to the private sector, explained Whiting.
“Since the launch of Sputnik up until the beginning of the last decade, research and development for space technology was almost exclusively funded by nation-states,” said Whiting. "This pattern was not only true for the United States, but for foreign nations as well. But in the past 10 years alone, the number of space companies receiving private, non-government funding has grown from 24 to more than 375.”
That’s an increase of 1,500 percent in privately funded space organizations, and Whiting said that trend would continue. That means that unlike in the past, innovation for space technologies will happen more in the commercial sector than within the government.
“This explosion of innovation also means the calm, predictable environment we enjoyed after the Cold War is decisively over. We have entered a new space race ― an entrepreneurial space race ― and it will pull our enterprise out of its predictable and comfortable state into one that’s ambiguous, complex and highly unpredictable," Whiting said.
In order to harness that innovation, the military needs to be more open, responsive and collaborative with commercial companies.
“It’s not going to be enough for countries to outpace each other with exclusively state-sponsored campaigns anymore. Instead, nations will gain the upper hand by harvesting the emergent capabilities of their commercial industry, by unlocking the asymmetric advantage of commercial space operations seamlessly integrated with military space operations. Nations that do not do this run the risk of being left behind, of not being able to capitalize on their indigenous talent," said Whiting.