Military space officials seek to more rapidly deploy newer satellites to meet threats

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HUNTSVILLE, ALA – The U.S. needs to move away from traditional satellite development, acquisition and deployment to keep up with the current and future threats, military space officials told attendees Aug. 8 at the annual Space and Missile Defense Symposium.

Instead of relying on building ultra-sophisticated satellites that take years to develop, build and acquire – and then remain on station well past their planned lives – the nation needs to find ways to cut down on requirements, development time and acquisition bureaucracy to get the most modern spacecraft more quickly, they said.

“Exquisite satellites that last for decades, that cost extremely high amounts of dollars, that take years to build with little regard for today’s strategic environment are not that helpful,” Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, commander, Air Force Space Command, said during his conference speech.

Especially challenging, he said, are the “burdensome requirements” that often weigh down programs and prevent quick development, acquisition and deployment. His command is looking to reduce the requirements and push down oversight of programs to the lowest level possible to move along the process, he said.

Development and deployment delays are allowing adversaries to contest the U.S. more in the space domain and other realms important for missile defense, Gen. John Hyten, head of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), noted during his speech.

“Our No. 1 problem is being outpaced by our adversaries,” he said. “We forgot how to move fast in this country. We can do it if we get out of our own way.”

Specifically, he said, the Air Force and the rest of the Pentagon needs to reinterpret the acquisition regulations. Those oft-maligned rules are often blamed for the slow acquisition cycles that plague space and many other programs, but Hyten said the regulations actually give great latitude – if the services want to use it.

“Implementation is what is killing us,” he said. “Not the documents.”

Defense officials are looking for industry program partners to get more involved in finding ways to more quickly – and affordably – buy and operate space-based programs.

“I’m going to ask you how this can be done cheaper than it has in the past,” Raymond said.