U.S Air Force examines choices for sensitive satellite communications

The Air Force is currently exploring various options to provide the most secure and sensitive satellite communications to users all over the world — including presidential control over nuclear forces — in order to cut down the cost and provide improved service.

The U.S service branch is carefully examining a number of alternatives that would finally allow them to abandon the ancient standard of building five, big costly satellites — like the Milstar and the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) constellations — for safe, protected and strategic and tactical communications.

“What we are trying to do is fundamentally change the way we are doing business,” said Dave Madden, director of the Air Force’s Milsatcom system program office. “If they want us to reduce the cost, we either have to take a lot of risk . . . or we have to figure out how to fundamentally do the job differently.” However, risk in this area should not be an option, as these satellite systems support the nuclear command-and-control mission, as well as special operators around the world.

As of the moment, seventeen contractors are working on different elements of a future satellite constellations, including cryptographic components, mission planning, space and ground segments, terminal design and waveforms.

After examining the principal cost drivers for the AEHF system, Madden said that he plans on concentrating on the payload providers. This is prompting officials to explore turning the acquisition model inside out—contracting with the payload provider as the prime and simply buying a standard bus direct from a manufacturer for integration. “What we are finding is that . . . 99 percent of the time, the schedule delay and the risk and critical path are always on the payload,” he said. “So, let’s focus on the payload provider.”


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