SMC 2.0: Air Force begins major reorganization of acquisition offices

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SMC will have a “chief architect” to guide and look across the entire space enterprise.

COLORADO SPRINGS — The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center is being redesigned for speed.

After a four-month review, SMC Commander Lt. Gen. J.T. Thompson will begin the restructuring of the massive organization that oversees a $6 billion space portfolio.

In a keynote speech Tuesday at the 34th Space Symposium, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson offered a preview of the upcoming reorganization. The central goal, she said, is to take down the walls that keep programs in stovepipes and create a more unified enterprise that looks at systems horizontally from design to production.

SMC will have a “chief architect” to guide and look across the entire space enterprise, Wilson said. Two new offices will be created. One will focus on innovation. The other will work to increase partnerships with foreign allies and commercial space companies.

The final product will be revealed in October, said Wilson. The first big test for SMC 2.0 will be the next-generation missile-warning constellation that will replace the current Space Based Infrared System. The Air Force decided to cancel purchases of SBIRS satellites 7 and 8 and invest in a more resilient system. It estimated that it would have taken nine years to build those two satellites. Wilson said the reorganized SMC will cut the time to develop and produce the next generation missile warning satellites from nine to five years.

Wilson also announced the Air Force will establish a new office that will report directly to Assistant Secretary for Acquisition Will Roper and whose mission will be to “speed things up.” This office will work with program managers to identify bottlenecks. “Their job will not be to buy things but to change the Pentagon rules and processes through which we buy things so that speed is a priority and an expectation,” said Wilson. “It’s time to stop circumventing the bureaucracy and start rewiring it.”

Many fingers are pointed when acquisition programs take too long to deliver products, but the “biggest barrier is in the Pentagon,” Wilson said. She boasted that the Air Force has been the “most aggressive of the services in using special acquisition processes” like the Rapid Capabilities Office to accelerate procurement.

Wilson said she has already moved to delegate authorities down the chain of command to expedite programs, but the red tape is still excessive. “It doesn’t do any good to delegate milestone decision authority to lower levels if program managers still have to get approval for technology readiness from a stable of people, each of whom is empowered to say ‘no’ and often rewarded for saying ‘no.’”

U.S. Strategic Command’s Gen. John Hyten, who has made headlines for criticizing the Air Force procurement system, said he is enthused by the changes that are now happening.

“I’m really excited about what the Air Force is doing,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “I won’t tell the Air Force what to buy,” but he wants to make sure systems meet the operators’ requirements. For STRATCOM, the most important attributes are resilience and capability. Hyten sent shockwaves through the procurement establishment when he called on the Air Force to stop building expensive satellites that make juicy targets for the enemy.

“I made a little bit of an overstatement to make a point,” Hyten acknowledged. “I was trying to make a point that I need a flexible, resilient warfighting capability.”