Cover: Resilient Partnerships for U.S. Military Satellite Communication Missions

Resilient Partnerships for U.S. Military Satellite Communication Missions

Designing a Method to Assess the Impact of Partnerships on Resilience

Published Jan 18, 2024

by Bonnie L. Triezenberg, Krista Langeland, Gary McLeod


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Research Questions

  1. What factors influence the currency of information provided by SMEs for operational resilience analyses?
  2. Can a method be developed that distinguishes factors that change with community attitudes or the operational context assumed by SMEs when they are rating resilience impacts (or both)?

The U.S. Space Force (USSF) is seeking to enhance the resilience of its space operations. This report documents the authors’ development of a methodology to define, assess, and evaluate resilience criteria over timewith a focus on the qualitative assessments of subject-matter experts (SMEs)and the application of that methodology to measure the impact of partnerships on the operational resilience of the U.S. military satellite communications (MILSATCOM) mission. 

The authors used semistructured interviews to elicit logic models regarding how and why integrating partners into MILSATCOM missions could affect resilience. The authors then formulated explanatory paired logic statements about how partnerships affect resilience and used these paired logic statements in a survey designed to ascertain whether the paired items are independent factors that should be modeled as separate inputs in later quantitative resilience modeling. 

The authors find that SME consensus appears to be deeply affected by the confounding factor that U.S. military personnel believe that the United States lacks the tools, training, and procedures needed to rapidly reallocate MILSATCOM resources in response to an adversary attack. Until this is remedied, more-detailed analyses regarding how best to integrate coalition and commercial partner resources will be obscured by a lack of trust that those resources can and will be properly integrated.

The report should be of interest to those seeking to understand how partnerships can be leveraged to improve the resilience of the MILSATCOM mission and those interested in methods to evaluate the validity of qualitative assessments about those partnerships.

Key Findings

  • Factor analysis is useful in identifying independent factors—even for such highly ambiguous concepts as resilience and partnership—but factor analysis cannot provide insight into the confounding factors that create dependencies between factors.
  • Consensus on a topic as ambiguously defined as resilience is deeply affected—not, as the authors had hypothesized, by time or operational context, but by confounding factors.
  • The specificity of vignettes appears to influence SME assessments of how operational context changes the factors of resilience. A more specific vignette appears to force experts beyond preconceptions and to confront conventional wisdom.
  • Personnel surveyed overwhelmingly believe that the USSF, in responding to adversary attacks, (1) has insufficient MILSATCOM resources to achieve resilience on its own, (2) lacks the tools and processes needed to integrate coalition and commercial partners in MILSATCOM operations, and (3) lacks the tools, training, and procedures necessary to rapidly reallocate MILSATCOM resources (whether alone or with partners) and recover in an operationally relevant timeframe.
  • More-detailed analyses regarding how best to integrate coalition or commercial resources may be biased by the lack of trust that those resources can or will be properly integrated.


  • The USSF should prioritize the development of tools and processes capable of reallocating MILSATCOM resources in an operationally relevant timeframe and train operations personnel in their use.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was prepared for the Department of the Air Force and conducted within the Force Modernization Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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