One reason to create a Space Development Agency? Bring the military services together

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Deanna Ryals, chief partnership officer at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, said a Space Development Agency could be a valuable addition to the military space enterprise.

LONDON — The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, responsible for buying 90 percent of the military’s space systems, is being reorganized to meet new demands driven by threats to U.S. satellites.

A realignment of the SMC organization, known as SMC 2.0, has been underway for several months and will be completed next year. Still unknown is how SMC might be affected by the establishment of a U.S. Space Development Agency. The Pentagon has recommended standing up a new agency to take over the development of next-generation space systems and work more closely with the commercial space industry.

Deanna Ryals, chief partnership officer at SMC, said a Space Development Agency could be a valuable addition to the military space enterprise.

SMC manages $6 billion a year worth of space programs. It has 1,200 government employees and works with two to three times that many support contractors.

“I think we’ll be hearing from Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan in the next couple of months on where things are going with this,” Ryals said during a panel discussion at the 2018 Global MilSatcom conference.

Shanahan is drafting a legislative proposal following orders from President Trump to establish a Space Force as a new military branch in fiscal year 2020. The proposal includes, among other items, the creation of a Space Development Agency. The new agency would report directly to Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin, and would move to the Space Force if Congress approves creating a new service. How exactly the Space Development Agency would work with SMC has yet to be determined.

Ryals suggested a Space Development Agency would dovetail with what the Air Force is doing under SMC 2.0, and it could be especially helpful in providing a single voice for military space requirements.

“One thing we could do better with the Space Development Agency is certainly bring the services together,” Ryals said. As SMC’s chief partnership officer, she is responsible to built ties with international allies, commercial companies and other government agencies. “What’s been very interesting for me when I’ve been out talking about SMC 2.0 at different forums are the reactions and feedback I get from our sister services,” she said. What she heard from the Army and the Navy is that they want to work with SMC to accelerate capabilities in space, Ryals said. SMC is trying to “look across the military space enterprise” and would benefit from closer coordination with the other services.

“If the Army and the Navy took the same approach, we could be doing things across the enterprise and get an enterprise view,” Ryals said.

Under an enterprise view, for example, SMC would make sure that the schedule for the deployment of satellites, ground stations and user terminals are coordinated so Army and Navy forces get the equipment on time.

“Another thing we could do a lot better if we combine under a Space Development Agency is end-to-end capabilities,” Ryals said. “Space, mission management, ground segment, the terminal segment, if we are all combined under one agency with the same set of authorities, the same set of architectures and guidance, I think we are going to streamline the way we do space acquisitions across the board.”

Discussions about a Space Development Agency are gaining momentum as SMC moves to realign programs to better support forces on the ground. SMC is changing the management of programs so the ground segment is better coordinated with the development of satellites. A recently completed study of military wideband communications sent that message loud and clear, Ryals said. “The problem is on the ground.”