Aerospace’s Role in Military Satellite Communications Acquisition

Since the days of IDCSP, Aerospace has been the Air Force’s partner in acquiring military satellite communications systems, ensuring that the U.S. government has access to the most effective, cost-efficient space technologies in the world. Aerospace efforts in mission assurance have helped the Air Force maintain a record of successful satellite deployments substantially better than that found in the commercial industry.

Aerospace’s principal customer is SMC, a unit of Air Force Space Command, which is headquartered in Colorado. Space Command is responsible for acquisition, launch and range operations, and operations and support of space and missile systems. Before the development of a program, Aerospace personnel in Colorado and El Segundo work with SMC to ensure that all DOD user needs are defined and documented and that system concepts and program plans are affordable and executable. As part of this process, requirements must be validated, concepts must be developed, and a range of viable alternatives must be considered.

The Aerospace role in assisting the Air Force with full systems engineering—technical and programmatic, through all program phases—is particularly evident in the history of Milstar. We use this as an example of how Aerospace partners with the Air Force in systems engineering and acquisition management of all our military satellite communications programs. Aerospace analyses of Milstar architecture and design concepts and system performance were fundamental to the review that is required of every military satellite communications acquisition. Aerospace defined systems for program office cost estimates and for the independent organization now known as Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE), which prepares independent cost estimates. Aerospace helps ensure an appropriate solution is recommended to the program’s decision authority. For military satellite communications today, the deputy secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics typically must decide whether the recommended program can provide the joint-validated capability within the allocated budget.

Aerospace helps answer many questions during this decision-making process. What are the users’ needs and similarities or differences in communications connectivity and coverage? What are the options? Is the best solution a material one, which is often costly and requires years of development, or is there an operational alternative? Is the best solution a satellite? If so, what orbit and payload configuration? How many? How long will it take? What would it cost? Purchased or leased? Does the industry technology and manufacturing base exist? Answers to these and other Milstar questions were formally documented and approved by the Air Force, DOD, and congressional leadership.

Once the decision is made to proceed with acquisition, additional questions must be answered. What programmatic or technical risks might arise? What industry or government action might mitigate those risks? What is the right contract structure to ensure a path to successful execution? What are the organizational, physical, and functional interfaces? Aerospace assists the Air Force in the substantial analyses, plans, strategies, and documentation preceding a program acquisition decision.

Before a contract could be awarded, Milstar required five years of analysis and risk-reduction efforts by government laboratories, FFRDCs, universities, and contractors. Many efforts produced an EHF waveform with antijam, antiscintillation techniques that included carrier frequency choice, error detection and correction, interleaving, multiplexing, frequency hopping, frequency and time permitting, modulation, and cross-banding. Aerospace helped define the additional capabilities Milstar needed, including equipment performance and operations that included resource control based on users’ requests from across the military satellite communications community.

As part of Milstar risk reduction efforts, MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory flew Lincoln Experimental Satellites (LES) 8 and 9 in 1978 and the FLTSATCOM EHF Package (FEP) hosted on FLTSATCOM 7 and 8 in 1986. Other programs that have benefited from similar risk-reduction activities include DSCS and AEHF. Close collaboration between Aerospace and Lincoln Laboratory continues today in the development of new military satellite communications systems and techniques, program integration and test objectives definition, and executing “gold standard” proof of compatibility for satellite and terminal equipment.

Milstar’s survivability and ability to operate in the presence of electromagnetic and physical threats was of utmost importance, and Aerospace examined the system’s ability to mitigate these threats. Analysis ranged from details of communications signals detection to architecture survivability trades, and surveyed options from many satellites near Earth to a few satellites as far away as 20 times GEO altitude. In parallel, the Army, Navy, and Air Force pursued satellite and terminal equipment risk reduction that established performance possibilities.

In addition to a formal source selection plan, Aerospace helped SMC prepare the request for proposal, writing technical documents (such as requirements, interfaces, and standards) and contractual documents (such as statements of work, schedules, cost profiles, and conditions such as data rights and government furnished equipment). Aerospace also participated on a team that assessed proposals in accordance with federal and Air Force acquisition regulations. A detailed accounting of all findings followed and a government recommendation—typically all subject to independent review that includes Aerospace and government leadership all the way to the Office of the Secretary of Defense for a major acquisition. Finally, an award to proceed resulted in a signed contract in 1982!

Aerospace’s primary Milstar role then became oversight and monitoring of the contractor’s technical and programmatic performance to ensure mission success. This systems engineering management role encompassed independent analysis and verification of requirements satisfaction, test results and anomaly resolution, risk reduction, software and component development maturity, electromagnetic interference/electromagnetic compatibility (EMI/EMC) and reliability/maintainability, security, and safety. Aerospace addressed many questions from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Air Force, and Congress, while the contractors focused on development.

Aerospace actively identified critical parameters and appropriate test objectives, and often participated in tests to reduce risk and ensure successful interfaces. Aerospace wrote the Milstar documents that identified critical user operational requirements, determined how and when they would be tested, and coordinated with independent Air Force and DOD organizations that report independently to Congress. Aerospace’s participation in the formal test and evaluation process allowed the Air Force program manager to certify that requirements were met as required by law.

Aerospace played a significant role in the launch, checkout, and final deployment of each Milstar satellite. During sustainment, Aerospace provided teams for on-orbit anomaly analysis and resolution. Aerospace also assisted with end-of-system-life activities for deorbiting or finding a stable orbit not likely to interfere with other space objects.

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