WASHINGTON — As the Space Force looks to modernize its military satellite communications and positioning, navigation and timing capabilities, its acquisition command is preparing to award contracts for programs in fiscal 2024 worth some $20 billion.
The total value of the contracts to be solicited this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, is an exponential increase from the $1.6 billion awarded across the SATCOM and PNT portfolios in fiscal 2023, according to Cordell DeLaPena, the Space Systems Command program executive officer who oversees those programs.
Speaking Oct. 19 at a Space Industry Days event in Los Angeles, DeLaPena said the planned awards, which largely reside in the SATCOM portion of his directorate, represent a significant shift the service is making towards fielding more resilient capabilities in orbit and on the ground.
The Space Force has traditionally relied on military-owned communication satellites, residing in geosynchronous orbit — about 22,000 miles about the Earth’s service. In recent years, it has come to think of those spacecraft as targets for adversaries and has begun to transition to smaller satellites, some commercially owned, located in lower orbits that can provide a broader range of capability, including faster data transmission and protections against enemy attempts at jamming their signals.
“The MILSATCOM mission area will transform, will pivot from providing not only network communications at the tactical edge, but will evolve into the data transport backbone from space — moving data from one side of the Earth to the other,” DeLaPena said.
The service is making a similar transition in its PNT portfolio, which includes satellites like GPS, but is earlier in the process. DeLaPena said the Space Warfighting Analysis Center is designing a plan for what those capabilities may look like and should have findings within the next year.
While the Space Force anticipates awarding the contracts in FY24, the funding will be distributed over a longer period of time, as is typical for Defense Department acquisition programs.
The anticipated deals would fund new projects as well as upgrades to existing systems that will help the Space Force transition to its new architecture. That includes an $8 billion contract that would fund the development of the Evolved Strategic Satellite Communications constellation, which will replace legacy Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites. The spacecraft provide secure, survivable communications for strategic missions.
Another $2 billion contract would modernize and sustain the ground system that supports the Space Force’s Mobile User Objective System satellites, which provide narrowband communication capabilities.
SSC also plans to award $464 million to Boeing to build the 12th Wideband Global SATCOM satellite, which will provide more communications capacity than previous spacecraft as well as anti-jamming capabilities.
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.