DoD and interagency group looking to step up collaboration on space technology

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"Space industrial base working group" includes DoD, FAA, NRO, NASA

WASHINGTON — A highly anticipated “state of the defense industrial base” report is due to be completed in April. The study, requested by President Trump in a July executive order, will look at the nation’s manufacturing and supply sources.

For the space-focused part of the review, the Pentagon has been working with NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Reconnaissance Office, said Brennan Hogan Grignon, director of industry outreach for the secretary of defense.

The “space industrial base working group” is looking at how agencies could share technology and, more broadly, how the government buys technology the private sector, she said last week at a House Aerospace Caucus event on Capitol Hill..

Hogan Gignon is overseeing the industrial base study mandated by the executive order titled “Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Industrial Base and Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States.”

“With the innovation in space technology that is happening, there is growing interest in coordinating programs and requirements across the agencies,” Hogan Grignon said. The Pentagon could team up with NASA and the FAA on projects where technologies overlap. “Are there requirements that can be aligned with the requirements of FAA, NASA and other agencies that are trying to procure the same technology for dual-use?”

One of the big topics is “how we use commercial technology, how we leverage that technology and break down the barriers from an acquisition perspective to get that technology to our war fighters,” Hogan Grignon said.

How to accelerate technological innovation in defense and space is a top concern for the Pentagon. There is angst over China gaining ground on the United States — or surpassing it in some cases — in aerospace technologies and manufacturing capabilities. The Defense Department’s new strategy released in February cautions that the U.S. military has to be trained and equipped to fight peer competitors, including Russia and China.

“We are shifting to ‘great power competition,’” Hogan Grignon said. “There are new threats that the industrial base needs to support. So what does this mean in terms of production capacity?”

One problem often cited by contractors in the defense industry are drawn-out modernization cycles. Hogan Grignon noted that DoD, NASA and the FAA invest in “10-year tranches” so there are long dry spells when small businesses may have no work and have to lay off employees.

“This has a huge impact on small and medium manufacturers in the supply chain, and on the workforce,” she said. “With 10-year gaps, you don’t have programs running at full capacity and you’re losing generational technology ability.”

To avoid the 10-year peak and trough cycle, the Pentagon would have to change how it modernizes its weapon systems, vehicles and satellites. After new systems are bought, they are kept in service for decades until they have to be modernized. During so-called “procurement holidays” the supplier base shrinks and some specialized suppliers go out of business.

A weakness that has been identified in the space sector is the development and design of solid rocket motors for future missiles. With few new developments over the past 40 years, “everyone who did that is retired or is no longer with us,” said Honan Grignon. “That’s a problem.”

For the industrial base study, DoD has solicited input from industry associations and consulting firms. According to an industry source, expectations are low. Every administration comes in and wants to survey the industry, but whether that leads to change remains to be seen. “They make incremental progress,” the source said, but the kind of change that the non-defense commercial industry has sought has not happened. Companies that are not established defense contractors wants a “substantial shift in the way that DoD manages and engages industry.”