WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force may seek to deepen partnerships with private companies by establishing a fleet of commercial spacecraft that could be on standby for military use, much like the Civil Reserve Air Fleet.
Through the CRAF, the Department of Defense contracts with commercial airlines to provide additional airlift capacity in emergencies. The reserve fleet has been activated just three times in its 70 year history, most recently in the summer of 2021 to aid in the U.S. military’s evacuation mission in Afghanistan.
The Commercial Augmentation Space Reserve could function in a similar manner, Col. Joseph Roth, director of Space Systems Command’s Innovation and Prototyping Directorate, said Oct. 19. The service plans to meet with companies and congressional stakeholders in Washington in January to gather feedback, he said.
“We definitely need the best and brightest minds working for that,” Roth said at the Armed Forces Communications & Electronics Association’s Space Industry Days event in Los Angeles. “That concept could be very powerful for us to use today.”
While the Pentagon has some unique needs, commercial space companies already provide many capabilities the department relies on, including satellite communications, space domain awareness and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
Brig. Gen. Dennis Bythewood, deputy commander of U.S. Space Command’s Joint Task Force-Space Defense, said the key is creating a construct for DoD to makes use of those services.
“I don’t know if there is a mission thread, maybe other than missile warning, where there aren’t commercial in-roads where they’re selling either the same or a similar service to what we buy with the military,” he said during the same event. “We’re interested in how we exploit it.”
As the Space Force fleshes out its plans for CASR, Bythewood said questions remain about how to manage liability and ensure commercially owned capabilities are protected from enemy attack.
“It won’t be benign when we need them at our worst,” he said. “I do think there’s a lot of work there.”
Col. Todd Benson, director of requirements for the Space Force, noted that as the service looks to draw from multiple commercial sources for some of these capabilities, integrating them with its broader portfolio of satellites and ground control systems will be vital.
“When these solutions come forward to surge, they have to be able to be integrated directly into what the joint force is doing at the time,” he said during the event.
U.S. SPACECOM is working to address the integration piece. Commander Gen. James Dickinson released a strategy in April aimed at working more closely with commercial companies and making it easier for the military to take advantage of their capabilities.
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.