Telecommunications company sues Commerce and Defense Departments $39 billion for theft

The telecommunications company Ligado yesterday filed a $39 billion suit against the Commerce and Defense Departments for stealing use of the communications spectrum granted to it by the FCC for the establishment of a 5G cell phone network.

Ligado’s suit filed in the United States Court of Federal Claims [PDF] makes a number of allegations, including that the Pentagon has “taken Ligado’s spectrum for the agency’s own purposes, operating previously undisclosed systems that use or depend on Ligado’s spectrum without compensating Ligado.”

Those systems, a source close to the case said, are certain classified radars rather than GPS systems.

The suit cites a high-level DoD “whistleblower” who “revealed internal emails and discussions” that the company claims show DoD and Commerce “fabricated arguments, misled Congress in testimony supporting anti-Ligado legislation, and orchestrated a public smear campaign, which included repeating those false claims to the public and threatening Ligado’s business partners with canceling their own government contracts if they worked with Ligado.”

There had been some disagreement about whether Ligado’s use of this spectrem might interfere with GPS as well as other communications services. Nonetheless, the spectrum was legally Ligado’s. If the lawsuit is correct and these government agencies arbitrarilly took possession and used the spectrum illegally, thus preventing Ligado from establishing its business, it would appear to be another example of the arrogant administrative state ignoring the law to grab power.

Once I would have considered a suit like this to simply be a failed company’s effort to recover its losses by blaming the government. I no longer assume such things. Instead, my first thought is that the allegations are true, that bureaucrats in Defense and Commerce conspirated to steal the spectrum for their own uses, and didn’t care that they were violating the law.

The truth could be a combination of all these things, but if so that still tells us some very ugly things about the people who now work in these federal agencies.

Rocket Lab completes first suborbital test launch of its Electron rocket

As part of its contract for providing the Defense Department with a testbed for hypersonic testing, Rocket Lab on June 17, 2023 successfully completed the first suborbital test launch of its Electron rocket.

The HASTE suborbital launch vehicle is derived from the Company’s Electron rocket but has a modified Kick Stage for hypersonic payload deployment, a larger payload capacity of up to 700 kg / 1,540 lbs, and options for tailored fairings to accommodate larger payloads, including air-breathing, ballistic re-entry, boost-glide, and space-based applications payloads. By leveraging the heritage of Rocket Lab’s low-cost Electron – the world’s most frequently launched commercial small launch vehicle – HASTE offers true commercial testing capability at a fraction of the cost of current full-scale tests.

Because of its military nature, Rocket Lab’s press release was generally terse in providing details. Sources in the industry tell me that this launch was designed to prove out the required suborbital capabilities of Electron prior to the first hypersonic test flight. When that flight takes place, it will carry a hypersonic test vehicle built by another company, Hypersonix.

Rocket Lab with this launch demonstrated again the smart flexibility of the company. It only announced this suborbital concept for Electron in April. Only two months later it has test flown it. It is now ready to fly an actual hypersonic test flight, and waits only for the test vehicle to be provided by Hypersonix. The speed of this program leap-frogged Stratolaunch, which is also offering its Roc airplane and Talon hypersonic test vehicle to the military but started its project in late 2020 and is still not ready for flight.

Defense to help Commerce create its own ability to track orbital objects

The Defense and Commerce departments yesterday signed an agreement where Defense will help Commerce create its own capability for tracking of all objects in orbit, from satellites to space junk.

The agreement, the Commerce Department said in a statement, defines how the two departments will work together to implement provisions of Space Policy Directive (SPD) 3 in 2018 that directed commerce to provide space situational awareness (SSA) and space traffic management (STM) services, such as conjunction warnings, currently provided by the U.S. military.

The result of this is that the federal government is now creating a second bureaucracy to do what the military has been doing quite capably for more than a half century. Commerce intends to obtain its data by awarding contracts to private companies, who will do the actual tracking. The irony is that it is very possible the military will eventually sign similar contracts with the same companies, thus paying them twice for the same service. Meanwhile, Washington has an excuse for hiring more people.

Even more ironic, this policy directive was issued during the Trump administration. It might have intended for Commerce to replace the military, but under the Biden administration the federal bureaucracy is being allowed to interpret the policy more broadly, thus allowing both agencies to do the work.

I also guarantee that the Republicans will almost certainly do nothing to change this, should they take over Congress. For the past thirty years this so-called party of small government has done nothing to earn that title. Instead, it has simply engineered the growth of government, in a more subtle and deliberate manner.

SpinLaunch gets first launch contract, from Defense Department

Capitalism in space: The smallsat launch company SpinLaunch has gotten its first launch contract from a division of the Defense Department.

In a statement today (June 19), SpinLaunch announced that it has received a “launch prototype contract” from the U.S. Department of Defense under a deal arranged by the Defense Innovation Unit. The Long Beach, California-based company aims to launch its first test flights in early 2020 from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

SpinLaunch is developing a “kinetic energy-based launch system” that accelerates a small payload-carrying booster to hypersonic speeds with a spinning system on the ground. A chemical rocket would kick in once the payload has been launched from the ground system.

The image provided by SpinLaunch at the link appears to show a 3D-printed lifting-body type spacecraft attached to the arm of a large centrifuge. This suggests that after this spacecraft reaches orbit and deploys its payload, it would then return to Earth to be reused.

SpinLaunch has raised $40 million in investment capital, so they are real. Whether they can make this happen by 2020 remains to be seen.

Trump administration reorganizes military space into single command

The Trump administration yesterday announced that it is doing what many in the military space sector have been proposing for several years. reorganizing all military space departments into a single command.

This is not a space force, but a realignment of the military bureaucracy in an effort to make space operations more focused and efficient. Whether it will actually do that I have my doubts. My impression from the news reports is that the military is using this as an opportunity to create a new upper management layer, thus increasing the size of bureaucracy.

New cost figures for Space Force

A budget analysis by a Washington think tank has proposed a new range of cost figures for a Defense Department unit devoted to space operations.

Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, unveiled a highly anticipated report on Monday, detailing cost estimates for standing up a Space Force as a separate military branch. Harrison made headlines in September when he criticized Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson’s estimate — $13 billion over five years to establish a new service and a space command — as overinflated.

Harrison estimated it would cost the Pentagon an additional $1.5 billion to $2.7 billion over five years to stand up a new service, based on the assumption that more than 96 percent of the cost would be covered from existing budget accounts within DoD. Harrison’s numbers, however, are hard to compare directly with the Air Force secretary’s because they do not include costly items that Wilson put into her proposal, such as a Space Command and additional programs and people she argued would be needed to fight rising space rivals China and Russia.

Harrison laid out cost numbers for three options — a Space Corps, a Space Force Lite and a Space Force Heavy. The total annual budget of the new service would range from $11.3 billion to $21.5 billion under the three options. None includes the National Reconnaissance Office whose size and budget are classified.

These options are a much more realistic analysis of the costs for a military reorganization of its space operations. For example, most of the money for these options is already being spent, with the cheapest option including $11 billion of its $11.3 billion cost figure from present allocations.

I however now ask: Why are we spending $11 billion for offices in the Pentagon, with staffing exceeding 27,000? From what I can gather, these budget numbers do not appear to include the cost for any actual military satellite launches. It seems to me this should be doable with far fewer people, especially if the Pentagon is hiring private companies to build the satellites themselves.

Pentagon buries report documenting $125 billion of waste

Why the revolt? The Pentagon purposely buried a 2015 report that documented $125 billion in wasteful Defense Department spending because they feared Congress would use it to justify sequestration.

The report, which was issued in January 2015 by the advisory Defense Business Board (DBB), called for a series of reforms that would have saved the department $125 billion over the next five years. Among its other findings, the report showed that the Defense Department was paying just over 1 million contractors, civilian employees and uniformed personnel to fill back-office jobs. That number nearly matches the amount of active duty troops — 1.3 million, the lowest since 1940.

The Post reported that some Pentagon leaders feared the study’s findings would undermine their claims that years of budget sequestration had left the military short of money. In response, they imposed security restrictions on information used in the study and even pulled a summary report from a Pentagon website. “They’re all complaining that they don’t have any money,” former DBB chairman Robert Stein told the Post. “We proposed a way to save a ton of money.”

The corruption in Washington today runs very deep. It will take many years and a lot of change to fix it. Don’t expect a lot from Trump or this Republican Congress. They might be a start (maybe), but even if they worked entirely to get the federal cleaned up they couldn’t do it in the next four years. And no one should expect them to work entirely to clean this up.

New Defense directive permits concealed carry on bases

Change: A new Department of Defense directive, issued last Friday, now permits soldiers and recruiters to carry concealed weapons while at work.

U.S. military personnel can now request to carry concealed handguns for protection at government facilities, according to new Defense Department directive issued last week in response to a series of deadly shootings over the last seven years. While service members already were authorized to carry weapons as part of specific job responsibilities, the new policy allows them to apply to carry their privately owned firearms “for personal protection not associated with the performance of official duties,” the directive says.

It is interesting that this directive was issued while Obama was still president. Apparently, the Trump victory gave those in charge in the Pentagon the courage to make it happen, knowing that Obama would have no power over them stop it, and knowing that Trump was likely to endorse it.

I remain unsure what kind of president Donald Trump will be. What does seem to be happening is that his victory is empowering a lot of people to defy and push back against the leftwing political culture that has ruled the U.S. since the 1960s in ways I have never seen. Should be an interesting four years.

Unsafe anthrax shipments more extensive than first revealed

Government marches on! The Defense Department has now admitted that the improper shipment of live anthrax samples was far more widespread than they originally told us.

“As of now, 24 laboratories in 11 states and two foreign countries are believed to have received suspect samples. We continue to work closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who is leading the ongoing investigation pursuit to its statutory authorities. The Department will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates to the public,” Defense Department said in a statement.

The Defense Department had previously reported labs in nine states and Osan Air Force Base in South Korea were impacted.

Words fail me.

Deal reached on Defense authorization bill that had included language allowing the military to hold U.S. citizen indefinitely

A deal has been reached on a Department of Defense authorization bill that had included language allowing the military to hold U.S. citizens indefinitely without charge, both in and outside the U.S.

Not surprisingly for a modern journalist (who routinely miss the lead in their own stories), this article really doesn’t tell us whether that language is still in effect.