New guidance from Space Force acquisition boss: ‘The traditional ways must be reformed’

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In an Oct. 31 memo, Calvelli laid out nine “space acquisition tenets” intended to drive change in the procurement of space systems

WASHINGTON — Less than six months after being sworn in as the Space Force’s procurement chief, Frank Calvelli has issued a list of do’s and don’ts for the acquisition workforce.

In an Oct. 31 memo, Calvelli laid out nine “space acquisition tenets” intended to drive change in the procurement of satellites and space systems in general. 

The guidelines in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by SpaceNews, echo concerns previously voiced by Calvelli about the slow pace and high cost of Space Force satellite procurements. Calvelli’s boss, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, has called for the Space Force to innovate faster to counter China’s advancements in space technology and anti-satellite weapons.

“The traditional ways of doing space acquisition must be reformed in order to add speed to our acquisitions to meet our priorities,” Calvelli wrote in the memo. 

“To gain speed we must shorten development timelines by building smaller satellites, acquiring ground and software intensive systems in smaller more manageable pieces that can be delivered faster, using existing technology and designs.”

Calvelli is the first assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisitions and integration, a new post created by Congress due to concerns that there are too many agencies overseeing space procurements and the Space Force should have its own civilian leader to oversee acquisitions.

The nine tenets, Calvelli said, are intended to help develop a new space acquisition philosophy:

Build smaller satellites, smaller ground systems and minimize non-recurring engineering. Use existing technology and designs. Acquire ground and software intensive systems in smaller more manageable pieces that can be delivered faster.

Get the acquisition strategy correct, including contract type and contract incentives for both speed and performance. Have clear, specific, unambiguous statements of work, minimize and avoid government furnished equipment and avoid putting the government in the middle of multiple contracts as the integrator. Do not be afraid to use fixed price contracts. 

Enable teamwork between contracting officers and program managers, and they preferably should be collocated.

Award contracts with realistic cost and schedule targets to avoid low bids and buy-ins. Ensure companies have the correct skills to successfully execute the contract. Understand what companies are capable of doing or not doing.

Maintain stability in programs. Push back on year-to-year budget changes that drive rebaselining and slow down acquisitions. Avoid accepting new requirements after going on contract.

Avoid over-classifying. Putting programs in the “special access program”  category hinders the integration of space capabilities across other domains and can hinder getting ideas from a broader pool of industry. Avoid classifying systems as “no foreign” to enable future sharing with allies.

Deliver ground before launch. Ensure ground systems are completed and ready for operations before launch of a new capability. 

Hold industry accountable for results. Do not tolerate bad performance that we have seen in some traditional large satellite and ground systems cost-plus contracts. Take corrective action and consider all tools available for poor performers including loss of fee, use of the Contractor Responsibility Watch List, and if necessary, stopping programs. Industry works for you, so be a demanding customer.

Execute and deliver capabilities that work, on schedule and on cost. Identify issues early in order to quickly resolve them. “This is our most important tenet. Success is measured by executing on plan.”