WASHINGTON — The Pentagon next year for the first time will have a senior procurement executive for space programs, a post mandated by Congress. 

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told SpaceNews Dec. 2 that a candidate to fill the position of assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration has been selected and is currently being vetted by the White House. The nominee also has to be confirmed by the Senate. 

Kendall said having a senior leader in charge of military space acquisitions is hugely important as the Space Force looks to modernize its satellites and other systems developed decades ago, and to acquire advanced technologies needed to compete with China and Russia. 

One of the first assignments for the new assistant secretary will be to oversee organizational changes in the Space Force procurement enterprise, Kendall said.  

“We’ll be looking at what is the best way to restructure the organization,” he said. 

The transfer of the Space Development Agency to the Space Force is one change on the horizon. SDA is currently a Defense Department agency but will move to the Space Force in fall 2022. Kendall said he has been working on the details of the transfer with undersecretary of defense for research and engineering Heidi Shyu, who currently oversees the SDA. 

Also on the agenda is a restructuring of the Space Systems Command, the organization that develops and procures satellites, buys space launch services and other technologies for the U.S. military.

A massive agency with a $9 billion annual budget and a workforce of about 6,300 military, civilian personnel and contractors, the Space Systems Command (SSC) previously was known as the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC). The Space Force in August renamed it SSC and the Pentagon selected Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein to lead the command.

The forthcoming restructuring would reverse changes made by former SMC commander Lt. Gen. John Thompson under an initiative known as SMC 2.0 that started in 2018 and was completed in late 2019. 

Thompson moved to realign SMC program offices — known as mission area directorates — that managed development and procurement of communications satellites, GPS, remote sensing satellites and other systems. Under SMC 2.0 those directorates were eliminated and projects were realigned under four organizations:  A development corps overseeing programs in their early phases, a production corps, an enterprise corps (for launch services and product support) and an atlas corps (for workforce and talent management). Thompson argued that the previous mission directorates were operating in isolation and that SMC would benefit from a more horizontal structure that facilitated technology sharing and collaboration.

Kendall said the current structure is now being revisited.  

“Separating organizationally the development phase from the production phase, I don’t think that’s the right way to structure an acquisition organization,” said Kendall. “I think all phases of the life cycle need to be under a single manager. So we’re looking at reorienting to that kind of a structure.”

Kendall said he and Guetlein have discussed a reorganization of SSC but many decisions have not yet been finalized.

With mission-focused program offices, SSC would have separate program executives managing communications satellites, GPS, space sensors and launch services, for example. The Space Development Agency could conceivably be part of SSC and operate as a separate program executive office, or as a separate entity like the Space Rapid Capabilities Office. SDA is building a network of interconnected commercial satellites in low Earth orbit to transmit data, provide communications, navigation and other services. 

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...