The global geopolitical landscape is shifting, and conflict is very much back on the agenda.

The last few years have been some of the bloodiest in recent memory, and defense budgets, at constant threat of being cut in peacetime, are now increasing. None of this is welcome news, but it is a fact of the present moment, and we must act accordingly. TAHIS means taking steps to ensure the military is not just well drilled, but equipped with and supported by the latest in technology.

For the decision-makers at the Pentagon, that has meant turning to the private sector, with which the Department of Defense is looking to form partnerships. The aim is to integrate private sector technology into military operations, covering both training exercises and real-world scenarios.

The primary objective is to ensure that essential satellite-based capabilities – such as communications, navigation, surveillance, and missile detection – are maintained and improved by private enterprises with surplus capacity, particularly during wartime. In the communication area, this should include all the latest satellite communication options for redundant, high speed connectivity: LEO constellations, MEO, and GEO connectivity and also include not only traditional RF links but also leverage the latest Gigabit speed Free Space Optical Communications, both between satellites in space and through optical ground stations back to earth. The name for this program is the Commercial Augmentation Space Reserve (CASR).

Its inspiration is the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) program, which allows the government to use commercial airlines for transportation needs in emergencies. It came about in 1952, after aircraft were commandeered for the Berlin Airlift, and has been activated three times since, most recently in 2021.

With Russia locked in bloody conflict in NATO-backed Ukraine, and U.S. intelligence officials warning of an attempted Chinese takeover of Taiwan, the U.S. has good reason to pursue its new strategy. The U.S. Space Force Space Systems Command Commercial Space Office and Colonel Knisley have been laying the groundwork building over the past 12 months.

That the focus is space is key. China recently landed its unmanned Chang’e-6 aircraft on the moon, planting the Chinese flag, pointedly, in the Apollo crater – named for the original U.S. moon landing. It recently launched four high-resolution remote-sensing satellites and plans to launch ten more by the year’s end.

Space tends to grip the public imagination, but these forays are not driven by vanity. China, like the U.S., like Europe and like the other main players on the world stage, understands that Space is now one of the key arenas in a potential conflict, and a key driver of innovation across the board. And while the U.S. remains the preeminent space and military power, China’s rapid advancements are narrowing the gap.

The Pentagon’s overtures to private companies in the U.S. and allied countries reflects this understanding: that space is now a crucial battleground. Satellites form the backbone of modern military infrastructure, supporting vital functions like precise navigation and secure communication. And these advancements have largely been driven by the private sector, where the pursuit of profit spurs continuous innovation and the shedding of inefficiencies.

By collaborating more closely with private enterprises, the military simultaneously ensures access to cutting-edge technology and weaves a robust safety net. This partnership is crucial for maintaining technological superiority and operational readiness.

This is a very intelligent move by the DoD. Clearly, the leadership recognizes that its unique expertise and resources are best invested in areas not available in the commercial market. For many space capabilities, rather than build proprietary technologies, it can tap commercial products and take advantage of innovation and development from allied partners.

This has the secondary benefit of improving interoperability – that is, the ability of the U.S. and its allies to work together, exchanging technology and knowledge for mutual benefit. In this respect, the U.S. is drawing on ideas which have been tried and tested effectively in the private sector. ‘Network thinking’ is a familiar phrase in Silicon Valley. The Pentagon is now putting it to use in a military context.

The current global landscape is marked by increasing volatility. Accompanying that volatility, the U.S. is no longer the only nation that has substantial space capabilities. This makes continuing to foster cutting-edge space capability in the interest of the U.S and all of its allies. With significant capability in the commercial space sector, the CASR program is one of the programs that can tap the commercial innovation and capabilities in space and foster continued innovation. In tapping commercial innovation, it’s important to recognize the significant space contributions available from U.S. allies.

And the U.S. clearly recognizes this: the Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC) collaborates with the national space operations centers or headquarters of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The CASR program can be a meaningful step forward for the U.S. towards developing commercial space capabilities and a cost-efficient surge capability should the need arise.

It’s in the interest of all allied countries and believers in freedom to commend the Pentagon for this strategic shift. By engaging with the commercial space sector from both domestic suppliers and our allies, it’s highlighting the importance of space in any future conflict, and the role it has to play in shoring up U.S. military and technological superiority. The CASR initiative also exemplifies the forward-thinking approach that has helped the U.S. military to become what it is today.

Jeff Huggins is president of Cailabs US Inc., a supplier of photonics products for the space industry.

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