Over the last decade, we have witnessed a transformation as to how our nation utilizes space. We have seen the value of space increase exponentially as it proved its worth as both an operational and tactical military enabler. Today, it is difficult for us to imagine our nation going to war without space assets.
What is most unusual about this transformation is that our overall space architecture has not changed appreciably over the last two decades. We have gained powerful new capabilities by modifying or, in some cases, reinventing how we utilize our current generation of space assets. In our view, this is an impressive accomplishment and a testament to the innovation and hard work of our nation’s space professionals.
Though our current space systems are performing far beyond our expectations, their performance should not lull us into complacency about the future, which remains uncertain at best. Many next-generation space programs have been marred by enormous cost overruns and huge schedule delays. While we have seen marked improvement in recent months due to a renewed emphasis on sound acquisition practices and a revitalized Air Force space management team, many challenges still exist.
We believe that the Air Force space management team under the leadership of Dr. Ron Sega is beginning to turn the corner. Better control over the requirements process, more realistic budgeting, and closer management of contractors have given us hope. Yet, we know that more work by our space professionals still needs to be done and that constant vigilance will be required.
For these reasons, we were confounded and disappointed by the lack of attention given to the challenges of space by the Air Force’s recent reorganization plan. This plan, a requirement of the Department of Defense Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), calls for a sizable reduction in manpower within the Air Force over the coming years.
We have been told by high-level government officials that Air Force Space Command will be the source of significant reductions. Since Air Force Space Command is already one of the smallest of the major commands in the Air Force, we are deeply concerned that this reorganization plan could harm our efforts to meet operational requirements and get our acquisition programs back on track.
Just as disturbing was information we received that the Air Force has targeted Air Force Space Command for a huge reduction in contractor support in order to comply with a recent Defense Comptroller Program Budget Directive (PBD- 720). Air Force Space Command depends upon contractor support more than any other major command in the Air Force. Upwards of 20 percent of Air Force Space Command personnel are contractors, whereas the other major commands have only 6 percent.
These key personnel, especially Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) and Systems Engineering and Technical Assistance (SETA) contractors, are an integral element of our space acquisition and operations capability. They have allowed us the flexibility to meet the increasing demands of our operational commanders for space capabilities.
The Air Force has publicly stated that the Air Force Space Command will not lose more than its fair share. We strongly disagree. It is our view that under the Air Force’s current reorganization plan, Air Force Space Command will lose far more than its fair share — it will lose its ability to support current military operations and its ability to manage adequately its future acquisition programs. One Department of Defense official told us that the reorganization plan could set our space programs back at least five years.
As the co-chairs of the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional Space Power Caucus, we believe these cuts undermine our nation’s space industrial base and our ability to conduct national security missions. To address this concern, we jointly introduced legislation in both the Senate and the House that prevents the secretary of the Air Force from reducing the number of military personnel, civilian employees and contractor support personnel from Air Force Space Command until the secretary tells Congress, in a detailed report, about the proposed cuts, justifying the reductions and assessing the impact on Space Command’s ability to execute its mission.
The report will enable Congress to carefully consider the secretary’s plan and would require the secretary to certify the reductions will not result in any diminished Space Command acquisition, space operations and technology development programs.
We believe a meat-cleaver approach to personnel reductions in space acquisition and operational units puts our national security at risk. Given the current threats facing our nation’s security and the important role of U.S. space assets in addressing these threats, the Air Force must not take actions that reduce our future space capabilities.
It is time for the secretary of the Air Force to be both reasonable and realistic when assessing manpower reductions. He must ensure that the nation’s security and space superiority are enhanced — not reduced — even in a time of budget cuts.
Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) is the ranking member on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.