Space Force outlines vision for hybrid military-commercial-allied mission architectures

New strategy offers guidance on what the USSF wants to buy, but not how much it plans to spend.

The Space Force wants to “pivot to a new model” for using commercial technology in mission systems—even if the new strategy released Wednesday doesn’t yet have all the answers. 

“If you are expecting the document to outline how much money is available for us to dole out for each mission area, you’ll be disappointed,” said Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, chief of space operations, during a keynote at the Space Symposium conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  

The key takeaway is “a common understanding of our priorities, the missions where we need help, our proposal evaluation criteria and clear definitions of terms to enhance that collaboration,” Saltzman said. 

The young service branch debuted its 19-page strategy just a week after the Pentagon’s broader “2024 DoD Commercial Space Integration Strategy” which calls, among other things, for the military to help protect commercial space assets. 

The Space Force’s complementary document says it aims to galvanize a “pivot to a new model” for using commercial space tech, including hybrid space architectures that combine systems from the Defense Department, private industry, and allies. 

Commercial space technologies, such as satellite communications, are increasingly valuable across the military and intelligence communities. For example, the Army is working with the Space Force for its satellite-as-a-service pilot program, which would combine an Army-owned terminal that can play with several commercial satellite providers. 

“And over the past two decades, the demand for military satellite communication bandwidth increased dramatically due to the heavy reliance on bandwidth-intensive operations—operations like aerial vehicle feeds, unmanned aerial vehicle feeds,” Saltzman said. “In space operations, we have become more comfortable with using commercial capabilities to add capacity than we have with fully integrated commercial capabilities into our force design. It is this basic thought that has led to the U.S. Space Force’s commercial space strategy.”

The strategy has four lines of effort that focus on working with allies and partners in and outside of government, technical integration, managing risk, and keeping up with emerging technologies. The most detailed concern is operational and technical integration, which has eight key mission areas—including satellite communications, space domain awareness, cyber operations and command and control, or C2—with a glimpse of what the Space Force is looking for and what it would likely buy. 

“This line of effort includes developing the policies, processes, technical standards, procedures that allow the commercial sector to integrate data and hardware with a Space Force and it will require unity of effort between the Space Force and the joint force when conducting missions involving employment or hybrid architectures,” Saltzman said. “In this portion of the strategy, we describe and prioritize the mission areas where we see the best opportunity for industry to assist the Space Force.” 

For example, the Space Force wants SATCOM that can boost “data transport speed, capacity, agility, flexibility, reliability, and/or resiliency” and will choose capabilities that can be easily integrated into multiple system types.” And for C2, the Space Force is looking for dynamic, muti-band solutions that improve data resiliency and global communications.

The hope is the strategy will help spark real change. 

“USSF believes the cost and challenges of undertaking this strategy pale in comparison to risks of maintaining the status quo,” the document states in its conclusion. “It is imperative that the USSF maximizes the integration of the disparate space capabilities on the ground and on-orbit, and fully leverages innovation in the commercial sector through the ‘exploit what we have, buy what we can, and build what we must’ approach to acquiring and fielding space capabilities.”

Audrey Decker contributed to this report.