Griffin: Future of new DoD space agency ‘still up in the air’

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Griffin: “The Space Development Agency is one of the tools we offered up as a way that we're going to reenergize the space development culture, shorten the time cycles that we talked about, bring some new things to the table. "

WASHINGTON — In a report to Congress in August, the Pentagon proposed establishing a Space Development Agency as part of a broader plan to form a new military service for space.

A key proponent of the space agency, Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin, submitted a proposal on Sept. 20 to Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan explaining that a new organization is needed to disrupt traditional procurements and accelerate the modernization of military space systems.

Griffin said on Tuesday that he did not know if or when his proposal will move forward.

“The whole issue of the Space Development Agency and what we do in space is, forgive me, still up in the air,” Griffin said during an appearance at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The August report was directed by Congress in section 1601 of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. “The deputy secretary of defense was charged with telling Congress how the department is going to reform its management of the space enterprise,” Griffin said. “The Space Development Agency is one of the tools we offered up as a way that we’re going to reenergize the space development culture, shorten the time cycles that we talked about, bring some new things to the table. That was part of our response back to Congress in the 1601 report.”

Shanahan told reporters last month that he is drafting a legislative proposal to stand up a Space Force as a new military branch, and that a Space Development Agency would be included in that proposal .

Griffin said the details of the proposal are still being hashed out. “It’s not even that I know and can’t tell you. If I knew and couldn’t tell you, I would just tell you that I can’t tell you,” he said in response to a question from the event moderator, CSIS senior fellow Tom Karako.

Shanahan also received a proposal from Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, who suggested the Space Development Agency should be stood up in the existing Space Rapid Capabilities Office to avoid duplicating structures that already exist.

Griffin said nothing has yet been decided on how the Space Development Agency should be organized. “We don’t have that settled yet,” he said. “So beyond saying that, ‘You know, the deputy’s working on it, that the senior leadership of the department is in regular discussions on the matter,’ if I go farther than that, I’m getting out ahead of my headlights. Sorry.”

According to a DoD source who spoke with SpaceNews on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, multiple versions of a legislative proposal are under development “awaiting White House and senior leadership guidance.”

The official said DoD leaders are still debating how to organize the Space Development Agency and that the Pentagon has yet to explain how the new agency “would bring value-added over any current acquisition organization to include Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, the Space Rapid Capabilities Office, the National Reconnaissance Office and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.”

Proponents of the new agency, the official said, “appear singularly interested in a new acquisition organization rather than bringing better business practices to the Defense Department, and it’s not clear why.”