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Why the Pentagon’s overtures to the private space industry are good news for Europe



Why the Pentagon’s overtures to the private space industry are good news for Europe

The Pentagon is pushing to forge agreements with private companies at home and from allied countries. Known as the Commercial Augmentation Space Reserve (CASR), the initiative will involve embedding the private sector into operations to maintain crucial satellite-enabled capabilities, including communications, navigation, surveillance, and missile detection. To be eligible for the new scheme, private companies with excess capacity will have to show they can support the DoD under potential wartime scenarios when requested.

Such a move goes well beyond the usual relationships forged between the government and contractors. And it hasn’t come out of nowhere. For at least a year, Colonel Knisley and the Space Systems Command Commercial Space Office have been discussing plans to put in place a commercial space reserve so it has access to commercial satellite services during conflict. In August 2023, the Space Systems Command asked contractors to submit their comments on the CASR, modeled on the Air Force Civil Reserve Air Fleet program, which gives the government access to commercial airlines for transport at times of need.

The Pentagon has cited growing threats from China, as well as Russia, to disrupt American satellites. Earlier this month, China launched four high-resolution remote-sensing satellites; it plans to have launched 10 satellites by the end of this year. The U.S. remains the world’s space and military superpower, but China is accelerating its own efforts in both areas. Meanwhile, fears of a conflict over Taiwan persist.

The Pentagon’s overtures to the private sector provide further proof that future conflicts will be decided not only on the ground but also in space. Satellites are already essential military infrastructure. They are the hardware that enables critical military (and civilian) capabilities such as precise navigation and secure communication irrespective of conditions. The real advances in such fields are happening in the private sector, where the profit motive fuels constant innovation. Deeper collaboration with the private sector makes more technology available, more reliably, and gives the DoD access to the most sophisticated technology on the market.

In areas where private companies in countries allied with the U.S. have developed off-the-shelf products that the U.S. military can buy and use straight away, it makes no sense for the military to deploy precious resources developing proprietary technology of a similar kind. Far better to trust its allied partners to keep developing the technology it needs in these areas, so it can narrow its own focus to its most critical capabilities. This boosts interoperability—an important area of focus for U.S. decision-makers. Networks, as Ret. General Joe Votel recently said, have become a key organizing principle for successful businesses, from Amazon to Uber, and the same must now be done in the defense sector. As the former general noted, we must move from “industrial-base thinking” to “network thinking.”

For private companies in Europe and elsewhere to be able to keep building what the U.S. needs, they have to understand America’s aims. The CASR program, in providing more access to the commercial sector can help commercial companies get a clearer picture of U.S. strategic ambitions, tactical needs, and threat information. With the U.S. and the U.S. Space Force Space Systems Command now forging closer ties with the private sector, there is a greater opportunity for the private sector to align innovation with the evolving needs of the U.S. government in a dynamic geopolitical landscape.

The world, regrettably, is becoming more volatile. The Western powers are feeling the pressure to stay at the forefront of innovation. And that means looking to space, where the technology of tomorrow is fast becoming the technology of today. The silver lining is that closer collaboration between the U.S. and its allies will be a boost to the private space sector.

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The opinions expressed in commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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