Lord: Acquistion System Mending, Not Broken

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The U.S. Air Force’s top uniformed space official issued a strong rebuke to those who have criticized the service’s space acquisition system as “broken,” and said that troubled satellite programs are on the road to recovery.

“We’ve been criticized by people who tell us they think the space acquisition system is broken,” said Gen. Lance Lord, commander of Air Force Space Command. “I’m here to tell you it’s not broken. Get over it.”

The Air Force has learned from past mistakes on space programs, which ranged from overly complicated military specifications for hardware to too little oversight of prime contractors, Lord said April 5 during a dinner speech at the National Space Symposium here.

Commissions and studies led by officials like retired Gen. Tom Moorman, former vice chief of staff of the Air Force, and A. Thomas Young, a former top Lockheed Martin executive , have helped lay out a better way forward, Lord said.

Nonetheless, the service cannot afford to be overconfident, Lord said. Officials designing new satellites should take cues from the innovation that has taken place in private industry on new systems like satellite radio, he said.

Military and industry officials also should seek ways of developing new constellations like Space Radar and the Transformational Satellite (T-Sat) Communications System in less time than it took to develop older systems, Lord said.

“Space acquisition is not broke, it’s just too slow,” he said.

While appreciative of Lord’s defense of space programs, many of the hundreds of industry officials who gathered here for the symposium were wary of how his message might be received by members of Congress, particularly those who have been critical of the cost overruns and schedule delays on programs such as the Space Based Infrared System High and Advanced Extremely High Frequency communications satellites .

“It was a little over the top for my taste,” said one senior executive with a major aerospace company. “I think he was trying to make the point that there are a lot of positives — and there are,” the executive said.

A number of executives said Lord’s remarks appeared to be aimed at staffers of the Senate and House Appropriations committees. But these executives expressed concern that instead of changing staffers’ opinions of the Air Force acquisition system, Lord’s remarks would only anger them.