Biden taps former NRO official Frank Calvelli to run Space Force acquisitions

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Calvelli worked for 30 years at the National Reconnaissance Office and in September joined the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton

WASHINGTON — President Biden nominated Frank Calvelli to be assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition, the White House announced Dec. 15.

Calvelli worked for 30 years at the National Reconnaissance Office and in September joined the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton to lead the company’s space and intelligence programs. 

From July 2012 to October 2020, he was the principal deputy director of the NRO, overseeing space activities such as satellite and ground system acquisitions, systems engineering and satellite operations. 

If confirmed by the Senate, Calvelli will become the first-ever senior procurement executive in charge of military space programs, a post mandated by Congress in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said filling this position was a top priority. Having a senior leader in charge of space acquisitions is important, said Kendall, as the Space Force looks to modernize its satellites and acquire advanced technologies needed to compete with China and Russia. 

A key task for the new assistant secretary will be to oversee a reorganization of the Space Force procurement enterprise.

Since the Space Force was established two years ago, lawmakers have criticized the service for the slow pace of its acquisition programs and for not inserting innovative commercial technologies into military programs. During discussions on Capitol Hill about satellite procurements, the Space Force often found itself compared unfavorably to the NRO, which uses a more streamlined process.  

Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee, said he advocated for a separate space service “because the Air Force was neglecting its space mission and not performing as well as the NRO.”

Calvelli is the second high-ranking former NRO official to be named to a top Space Force procurement post. In July Biden nominated the former deputy director of the NRO Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein to oversee the Space Force’s Space Systems Command. 

While at Booz Allen, Calvelli focused on cybersecurity of space systems. He told SpaceNews that DoD and the intelligence community are going to increasingly rely on commercial space systems and government has to ensure hybrid networks — that connect military and commercial satellites — have adequate cyber defenses. 

“We need to think of all segments as an integrated architecture, especially when it comes to space protection, and the need to integrate data quickly for rapid decision-making,” he said.