Space Force Commercial Space Strategy Useful, But “Not a Panacea”

Space Force Commercial Space Strategy Useful, But “Not a Panacea”

The U.S. Space Force released its Commercial Space Strategy this week, but the Chief of Space Operations cautioned it is “not a panacea.” It sets out priorities and shows how the Space Force’s relationship with industry is changing, but does not answer all the questions. DOD issued its own Commercial Space Integration Strategy last week. Officials say the two are aligned.

Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations, released the report on Wednesday at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs. He explained it reflects how the Space Force is embracing a new relationship with the commercial sector, using commercial capabilities not just to add capacity, but integrating them into force design. Some may find it disappointing, however.

Gen. B. Chance Saltzman at the Space Foundation’s Space Symposium April 10, 2024. Screengrab.

“If you read the strategy expecting to see the answers to the most challenging problems of commercial integration, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re expecting the document to outline how much money is available for us to dole out for each mission area, you’ll be disappointed.

“But if you understand that effective integration will only come about with a common understanding of our priorities, the missions where we need help, our proposed evaluation criteria, and clear definitions of terms to enhance that collaboration, I think you’ll find this document useful, useful as a tool to drive process change, to shift our mindset and useful to see the Space Force’s relationship with industry in a new light.” — Gen. Saltzman

The strategy, subtitled “Accelerating the Purposeful Pursuit of Hybrid Space Architectures,” begins with a foreword co-signed by Saltzman and Frank Calvelli, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition and Integration. They stress that the Space Force will “pivot” to a new model of integrating “commercial space solutions into existing doctrine, strategy, concepts, force designs, acquisitions, and operations” whenever that is “feasible and cost effective.”

“We will focus on stronger partnerships with commercial partners and allied nations. The hybrid space architectures we field will integrate Department of Defense, commercial, and allied space systems into more resilient, redundant, and combat-effective capabilities. This will create a more diverse, proliferated, and distributed space architecture, enhancing integrated deterrence through increased resilience while enabling the continued growth of a vibrant American space sector.” — Calvelli and Saltzman

John Plumb, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, issued DOD’s Commercial Space Integration Strategy last week. He said at the time that DOD’s is focused on policy, while the Space Force’s is about how Saltzman “as a Service chief wants to see his military Service take this on.”

Indeed, the Space Force strategy begins by saying their decision-making on commercial space solutions will be guided by the DOD’s four principles: balance, interoperability, resilience and responsible conduct.

The Space Force will implement the strategy through four Lines of Effort:

  • Collaborative Transparency
  • Operational and Technical Integration
  • Risk Management
  • Secure the Future

Saltzman said they’ll have to make “tough choices” in these budget-constrained times. The Space Force’s budget for FY2024 did go up, but was $1.3 billion less than President Biden requested. The FY2025 request is a modest increase compared to previous years.

The strategy therefore includes four broad assessment criteria for evaluating proposals — operational utility, feasibility, resilience by design, and speed to fielding — to help industry “better understand our needs and how best to meet them.”

Source: Presentation by Gen. B. Chance Saltzman to the Space Symposium April 10, 2024. Screengrab.

Overall, “the commercial space strategy is not a panacea,” Saltzman stressed, “but I do think it frames the discussion that must take place. It sets the conditions for productive collaboration and it starts the critical processes needed to accelerate the purposeful pursuit of hybrid space architectures.”

Established in December 2019 pursuant to the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act, the U.S. Space Force is the newest military service. Like the other five (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard), it organizes, trains and equips personnel who are assigned to the 11 Unified Combatant Commands, including U.S. Space Command, as needed. The Combatant Commands are in charge of warfighting.

The U.S. Space Force and the U.S. Air Force comprise the Department of the Air Force (DAF), which is part of the Department of Defense.

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