DOD Should Improve Its Satellite Control Operations Says GAO

DOD Should Improve Its Satellite Control Operations Says GAO

The Department of Defense (DOD) needs to improve its satellite control operations according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).  DOD currently uses stand-alone control facilities for each satellite system, but instead should have shared systems that take advantage of commercial practices, the report concludes.

The study was conducted in response to a request from the House Armed Services Committee (HASC).   GAO calculates that the nation’s defense satellites, which are controlled by the ground stations at issue in the report, are worth “at least $13.7 billion.”  The ground stations, located around the world, however, are operated in a “fragmented and possibly duplicative” manner.  Furthermore, DOD has not incorporated recommendations from “[n]umerous studies by DOD and other government groups” to incorporate commercial practices that could improve efficiency and reduce cost.

DOD plans to spend $400 million over the next 5 years to modernize the Air Force Satellite Control Network (AFSCN), its primary shared satellite control network, but that will not increase its capabilities, GAO continues.  Those efforts instead focus on sustaining its current capabilities and “do not apply a decade of research recommending more significant improvements.”

GAO identified the following commercial practices it believes DOD should adopt:

  • interoperability between satellite control operations networks;
  • automation of routine satellite control operations functions;
  • use of commercial off-the-shelf products instead of custom ones; and
  • a “hybrid” network approach which allows a satellite operator to augment its network through another operator’s complementary network.

The key recommendations in the report are that the Secretary of Defense —

  • direct future satellite acquisition programs to determine a business case for proceeding with either a dedicated or a shared network, and
  • develop a long-term plan to modernize the AFSCN and any future shared networks and implementing commercial practices to improve DOD satellite control networks.

GAO reported that DOD concurred with those recommendations.

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