The U.S. Space Force is leading the charge when it comes to embracing commercial innovation, according to Steven “Bucky” Butow, director of the space portfolio for the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU). The agency was established last year to help the Pentagon gain faster access to commercial companies with promising technologies.
Speaking at the SmallSat Symposium in Mountain View, California, Butow urged space industry executives not to underestimate the Space Force’s commitment to adopting commercial products and services. He emphasized that while the path to successful commercial integration within the Space Force will not be easy due to traditional acquisition processes and complex Pentagon regulations, the agency is serious about change.
One initiative that appears to be gaining momentum is the acquisition of satellite imagery from commercial companies. Butow highlighted that field commanders are seeking more direct access to images from commercial satellites due to delays in getting images through intelligence community channels. The Space Force is striving to find faster options as early indications and warnings are crucial in national security.
Butow also mentioned that there is a collaborative relationship between the Defense Department and intelligence community but emphasized that everything does not have to go through intelligence channels. In an ideal world scenario, he mentioned that the Space Force would take out a credit card and buy a commercial image from a satellite company for use in tactical environments.
In response, industry executives expect more details about the Space Force’s business strategy plan currently being drafted by Gen. Chance Saltzman’s office. They anticipate this plan could allow commercial companies to work directly with warfighters and provide timely data from space.
The Space Force’s Commercial Space Office (COMSO) is working on an initiative with National Reconnaissance Office and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency collaboration ensuring a framework meeting combatant commands’ needs without authority conflicts between tactical operations under Title 10 legal authorities and strategic intelligence operations under Title 50 authorities.
Basically, it’s evident that despite persistent challenges such as traditional acquisition processes and complex regulations, there is a strong push within the U.S. Space Force towards integrating innovative technologies from private sector providers into military operations.
According to SpaceNews