DoD delivers report to Congress on space reforms: Air Force acquisition system a big problem

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Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan provided lawmakers an interim report on upcoming space reforms.

WASHINGTON — In a report to the congressional defense committees last week, Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan provided lawmakers a preview of how the department plans to reorganize onational security space programs and offices.

This interim report submitted March 1 was directed by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018. An updated report is due August 1. The final report due Dec. 31 has to be written by a Federally Funded Research and Development Center, and will look at how to establish a separate military department responsible for national security space. This so-called “space corps” provision is the most controversial piece of the NDAA space reforms, and is likely to become a contentious point of debate in the upcoming 2019 NDAA deliberations.

Defense Department spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told SpaceNews that the interim report is as comprehensive as can be expected given the short deadline. President Trump signed the NDAA in December.

“We were not given much time to prepare this report, but we delivered it on time,” Davis said.

The report is highly critical of the current acquisition system for space systems. It points out that today’s processes slow down modernization at a time when U.S. access and use of space capabilities are being threatened by foreign adversaries.

“The biggest challenge we face is the acquisition system, which needs to improve dramatically,” Davis noted.

“Congress has diagnosed the problem correctly,” he said, “and we are making significant changes already on space throughout the government, and within DoD.”

The 2018 NDAA calls for changes in the management of military space components — most of which are controlled by the U.S. Air Force — out of frustration that space priorities are not being adequately addressed. Since passage of the NDAA, Shanahan has disestablished the position of the principal DoD space adviser, which was previously held by the Secretary of the Air Force. He disestablished the Defense Space Council, and extended the term of the commander of Air Force Space Command to six years. He also established the Air Force Space Command commander as a Joint Force Space Component Commander under U.S. Strategic Command, and designated the Operationally Responsive Space office as the Space Rapid Capabilities Office.

Speeding up the acquisition process will require a sweeping review of how the Space and Missile Systems Center does business. SMC is a huge organization based in Los Angeles that oversees most space procurements. “The Air Force must return to a focused adoption of new technologies for game-changing capabilities,” says the DoD report. “This focus must be built into the space acquisition culture, and the workforce must be given freedom to execute with a sense of urgency and ownership.”

In its current form, SMC “does not manage space systems as an enterprise,” but instead is product-aligned into four mission areas; Precision, Navigation, & Timing, Military Satellite Communications, Remote Sensing, and Space Control/Space Situational Awareness.

“This structure creates natural barriers to developing alternative ideas, exploring different concepts, and ultimately, providing competitive forces to create substantial improvements in speed, cost, and performance,” the report says.

SMC should be “re-architected,” the report says, so it can operate as an “enterprise.” This is important as the United States enters a “strategic competition with China and Russia in space.”

DoD will review options for “promoting a family of space systems as part of a space portfolio plan,” the report says. One of the issues that will be probed is whether avoiding “unique mission platforms” will lower acquisition costs and speed delivery timelines.”

The department also will review the industrial base for space “with an eye toward increasing innovation and reducing risk,” the report says. “Currently, the industrial base for space is fragmented and underutilized. The department will seek a new mix of industry and academic partners to dramatically improve DoD space capabilities.”

The report acknowledged that there is “much work to be done over the next five months” when the next update is due to Congress.