Leaders at the Defense Information Systems Agency want to speed up how the Army acquires satellite bandwidth.
The contracting process across the Department of Defense is often notoriously slow. But lag times in getting satellite bandwidth can cause problems for soldiers on the front lines, who rely on the technology to communicate on the battlefield.
Speaking on a panel at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual meeting, Mike Nichols, DISA’s chief of commercial satellite communications technical support, described an idea that would allow the agency to get bandwidth to the battlefield faster.
“If I hear one thing back from our customer community and leadership, it’s that we need to acquire faster,” Nichols said. “So that is a charter that we have taken on, how can we improve the acquisition process.”
Nichols said DISA is exploring establishing a core network, which would feature an on-demand capability and allow defense customers to quickly meet their bandwidth demands.
“We would have a core network that provides capacity and various bands,” Nichols said. “Customers have a demand for service. We would already have a core network in place, in various bands for various services that would essentially lead to a very rapid ability to acquire that bandwidth.”
DISA currently has 91 contracts and task orders in place for commercial satellite communications.
The idea of a core network isn’t a new one at DISA, but thus far no defense organizations have been willing to provide the funds from their own budget to establish such a network. But Nichols said recent changes at the Pentagon may alter that calculation.
The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2018 restructured satellite communication procurement efforts, moving satellite acquisition authority from DISA to Air Force Space Command in December 2018.
“We feel this transition to Air Force Space Command will be conducive to that change,” Nichols said.
“If the department is willing to stand up so we can get that preposition bandwidth in place in the areas that we need it, so when a customer comes, we’ve got that in place.”
Nichols also noted during the panel that two contracting mechanisms in place at DISA have been remarkably successful in accelerating acquisition: contract surges and blanket purchase agreements. Those agreements allow a single vendor to have a single management dashboard and streamlined approach for technical support.
“These have helped tremendously, but that’s not our end state,” Nichols said.
Most task orders can already be awarded by DISA within 17 business days, Nichols said, but the agency sees room for improvement within the “art of the possible.”