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HOT TOPIC: SECAF raises space awareness inside the Pentagon. Startups the stars of satellite industry’s annual DC tradeshow

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson revealed that she is having regular private meetings with her Army and Navy counterparts. The three secretaries made a joint appearance on Monday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. They said one of the reasons for these regular get-togethers is to discuss science and technology projects — and find out what the others are doing so they’re not duplicating efforts.

Wilson has taken advantage of these gatherings to keep her colleagues up to date on space issues and on the emerging concept of “multi-domain” military operations that requires broader sharing of information.

“We’ve been involved together in space briefings because, as Heather said, we all have an interest in space,” said Army Secretary Mark Esper. “We all rely on space to one degree or another. And it’s a critical domain that we all have to protect…And we all have roles in protecting it and making sure it’s resilient.”

Wilson mentioned the defense of outer space and multi-domain warfare as areas of “big, bold changes” in the Air Force’s FY-19 budget. More resources are being spent on the “acceleration of space superiority,” she said. “There is not a military mission that doesn’t rely in some way on space. And so accelerating the move towards defendable space is one of the major themes of the Air Force budget in fiscal year ’19.”

The second “bold move,” multi-domain operations, has been controversial because it means doing away with a traditional Air Force platform — the JSTARS radar surveillance plane. Command and control today is done “from the air looking down to the ground with radars off of aircraft,” Wilson said. “In future combat we have to be able to do that in contested airspace. That means we have to do this in a different way.” The idea is to do “multi-domain command and control” using sensors in space, air, ground, sea “fusing that data, and being able to create a picture for counter-fire,” she said. “That’s a change from the way the Air Force had proposed to do that in the past.”

The three secretaries agreed to meet for breakfast weekly if possible or at least every other week. “Just the three of us,” said Wilson. “It’s absolutely terrifying the staffs, I think. And we’ve already identified and started about a dozen things we’re doing together. And probably one of the most exciting is looking at our science and technology portfolios — what research is the Navy doing, how can we leverage that in the Air Force, what projects do we want to do together? And it’s starting to pick up a lot of momentum.”

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said he is on board with the idea and was impressed by what he learned in recent briefings. “I don’t mean to make that sound like brilliant flashes of the obvious, but it was a fascinating interchange of really going over the stovepipes. There’s joint, but now there is integration. There is a difference.”

Satellite 2018: Startups are the big stars of the show

Digital Counterinsergency

The satellite industry’s annual tradeshow is underway in Washington, D.C. this week. With more than 15,000 people in attendance, the show attracts the usual mix of traditional space firms and up-and-coming new players. Startups increasingly are grabbing the spotlight and media attention.

One of the events on Tuesday is titled, “Witness the Next Big Idea in Aerospace!” It’s a contest called “Startup Space,” a competition where entrepreneurs pitch their business and technology ideas to a panel of establishment space professionals, investors and entrepreneurs.

During the opening session on Monday, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for space systems business development Kay Sears said the company is “trying to embrace, engage startups.” Most startups are focused on a particular technology or service, so large integrators like Lockheed can “use our mission knowledge to help them figure out where they fit in,” Sears said.

The Pentagon market is tough for startups, however, Sears cautioned. “Government is going to continue to rely on their own systems but they really want to take advantage of commercial capability primarily in the mission areas of communications and remote sensing,” she said. “But I think they’re a little conflicted on the space startups. They want commercial off the shelf. But space startups are not commercial yet. They haven’t established themselves. So if you give a government contract to a startup too early they become a government supplier. And that’s very different type of company.” By becoming a government contractor, a startup may lose the special character that attracted the government to begin with.

For more news from Satellite 2018, check out SpaceNews special coverage

DepSecDef report to Congress: Space procurement a mess

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan submitted an interim report to Congress on the reorganization of national security space, as directed by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018. 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,” said DoD spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis. “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.

Software a big headache in Air Force space, aviation programs

William Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, told the House Armed Services Committee that congressional efforts to speed up the Pentagon’s lethargic procurement process are making a difference. But there are still problem areas that laws alone can’t fix.

“Prototyping is the natural bridge between new technology and programs of record and is the appropriate place for new concepts to ‘fly or die,’” Roper said. In space, “We will experiment with doing things differently and more commercially.”

Concerns about the Air Force lagging in space modernization has led to a massive review of the entire space procurement organization. Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said things have to change. Speaking on Tuesday at the McAleese Credit Suisse defense programs conference, Selva recalled being in Silicon Valley just over a year ago and visiting a company that built and launched into orbit a satellite the size of a 55-gallon drum within 18 months. “It took another three months to start making money,” he said. By contrast, “Our average timeline from requirements to fielded satellites is 144 months. That is not expedient deployment of technology.”

Griffin’s tough talk on DoD procurement

In his first public appearance 10 days into the job, Michael Griffin, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, made it loud and clear what he intends to focus on: Changing the Pentagon procurement culture and shaking up a bureaucracy that “takes a long time, and wastes a lot of money,” he said at the McAleese & Associates and Credit Suisse annual defense program conference.

The former head of NASA was picked to fill a high-profile position that Congress created to guide Pentagon investments in next-generation technology. Griffin said he has the full backing of the Pentagon to go break a lot of china. Both Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan have been “unrelenting” about the need to accelerate the development and fielding of technologies, he said.

The Defense Department for decades was at the forefront of innovation but has lagged since the end of the Cold War and now emerging competitors are catching up. As challengers continue to close in, the Pentagon seems content doing business as usual. Among Griffin’s pet peeves are the layers upon layers of managers who all get to have a say in programs. “We are going to have to have fewer reviews, more rapid reviews, reviews in parallel instead of in series,” he said. “We have to expedite our decision making from the top down. We are going to have to delegate authorities.”

ICYMI: Allies could help shoulder cost of space modernization

The United States could use more allies in space, not only to help deter common enemies but also to share the financial burden of developing and launching systems into orbit, Air Force Gen. John Hyten told lawmakers last week. Hyten is commander of U.S. Strategic Command, responsible for strategic deterrence, nuclear operations, space operations and missile defense. He testified alongside Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood at a hearing of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee.

Trying to fight alone in space would be a mistake, said Hyten, a longtime advocate of multinational efforts to secure space. The United States needs teammates that will share capabilities and information, he said. “Cost-sharing agreements, hosting U.S. national security payloads on foreign systems, and data-sharing arrangements to bolster shared space situation awareness are just a few of the opportunities that are our allies and partners provide.” The United States already does space operations with Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. France and Germany were recently invited to join the club.

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Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...