WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force wants to create a space-based “outernet” that would allow military satellites and networks to communicate more efficiently.
The service’s Space Warfighting Analysis Center recently completed its initial plan for the capability as part of its space data transport force design effort, according to Col. Eric Felt, director of architecture and integration in the Air Force’s space acquisition office.
“The outernet is the internet in space,” Felt said April 26 at the virtual C4ISRNET Conference. “The basic idea being that if I’m a sensor or a satellite in space, I shouldn’t have to worry about how my data gets to where it needs to go.”
The work is part of a broader capability design effort that considers what future satellite communications systems and sensors the military will need. The review considered how the Space Force could use a mix of traditional SATCOM networks and commercial satellites to help ensure data gets to its intended destination, Felt said.
“That’s very important because it gives us real-time command and control and access to our data . . . which we don’t always have today,” Felt said.
That hybrid approach of combining commercial and military SATCOM networks with varied levels of security offers a “broader view” of how data can travel through space using multiple connection pathways.
The Space Force is conducting similar force design efforts across its mission sets, including one for missile warning and tracking, which it completed in 2022, and another last year that considered how space-based sensors could be used to track moving targets.
Felt said that as the service plans for future systems, it is considering how it can better incorporate capabilities from commercial companies and international allies. He noted that certain approaches, like reducing the classification level of certain programs or building smaller satellites can make it easier to bring in new partners.
“If we can do things at the secret, or even lower unclassified level, that facilitates easier integration with allies and partners,” Felt said. “To use small satellites just makes it easier for them. An outlier partner can much more easily and quickly build a small satellite than a large satellite.”
Speaking during the same C4ISRNET panel, Nicholas Eftimiades, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Councils Snowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, questioned whether that work to bring partners to the table is happening early enough in the Space Force’s capability development process.
“Where the allies couldn’t play 20 years ago because of the insurmountable costs . . . now, they can actually have capability in space,” he said. “That said, we’re still at a point where allies aren’t sitting in the room.”
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.