DOD Strategy for Commercial Space Market

The Pentagon’s space policy office is developing a strategy to leverage commercial space capabilities for national security purposes, with a particular focus on in-space logistics services such as satellite refueling. This strategy is separate from the one being developed by the U.S. Space Force and aims to improve the department’s ability to integrate commercial capabilities to enhance U.S. national security.

Space mobility and logistics are areas of particular interest to DoD, as the department has no on-orbit services to refuel satellites. This could help the U.S. compete with China and Russia as they field more nimble satellites. The value of commercial imagery became apparent after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, raising awareness of the value of commercial space.

DoD leaders recognize the need to shed legacy systems and adopt commercial technologies, but the inertia of current funding streams and established procurement practices makes it challenging. One obstacle is the way the Pentagon articulates its wish lists, known as the “requirements process.” Frank Calvelli, assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration, has been pushing to change this process, focusing on replacing programs of record with “mission areas” that can be bought as commercial services.

A shortage of acquisition professionals specialized in space systems is also a problem at DoD, as there is significantly less specific space training that goes on in the DoD compared to the intelligence community. William McHenry, a senior advisor to the director of the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), said that the Pentagon needs to do a better job transitioning R&D projects into actual capabilities. He noted that DoD spends nearly $150 billion a year in research and development, and only a small fraction of projects will transition to procurements.

DoD needs better insight into what’s happening in the industry, as they lack the expertise in the government that is needed across the board to understand how fast technology is moving. The Pentagon’s commercial space integration strategy is designed to address the challenges faced by the military and the commercial sector, as well as to improve the department’s ability to integrate commercial capabilities and enhance U.S. national security.