The U.S. military is leaning into utilizing “megaconstellations” – which consist of large numbers of distributed satellites – to provide service branches with critical capabilities against adversaries, according to Gen. James Dickinson, who heads U.S. Space Command.
During a July 19 address at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, Dickinson explained that the use of megaconstellations can make it increasingly challenging for adversaries to take countermeasures against satellite communications assets.
“Having a megaconstellation, quite frankly, frustrates our adversaries,” he said, because it becomes difficult for adversaries to determine the number of satellites required to degrade communications capabilities, or to identify which satellites to target.
Megaconstellations have played a critical role in Ukraine’s resilience against its Russian invaders, Dickinson said, and made it more difficult for Russia to generate effective countermeasures.
“We are seeing for the first time what a megaconstellation means to the world,” Dickinson said. “That provides such resiliency and redundancy in terms of maintaining satellite communications in this example. That is powerful, and the department is moving in that direction.”
For example, SpaceX’s Starlink network has helped facilitate communications among Ukraine’s armed forces and enabled other commercial companies to provide essential observation services – such as synthetic aperture radar which can observe at night and through clouds.
Dickinson lauded the “powerful and resilient” nature of megaconstellations in maintaining satellite communications, particularly under precarious conditions, and said that the collaboration between Space and Command and private sector firms necessary to create them also broadly benefits the Defense Department (DoD).
The general also acknowledged concerns of developing an overreliance on the commercial satellite sector, and said there needs to be a balance between military and commercial involvement in satellite-related efforts.
Currently, Space Command collaborates with 133 commercial providers engaged in satellite communications and space domain awareness.
The military already depends heavily on commercial services in other domains, such as shipping and air transportation, but the extent to which commercial services need to be relied upon in space is still being determined.
“It’s a balance,” Dickinson said. “In other words, we’re not going to be all commercial. We may not be all military. But as we look at our mission areas within U.S. Space Command and the Department of Defense, there is a balance between what is purely military and what might be relied upon as a service.”