LOS ANGELES — The U.S. Defense Department’s Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office must be allowed to operate outside the traditional Pentagon bureaucracy and provide mainstream capabilities to warfighters in order to succeed, the office’s former director said April 27.
If the ORS Office can provide direct and tangible capabilities to troops at war, there is no question top military leaders will put enough support and resources behind the office to continue its dual mission of responding to urgent military needs in space and developing responsive space technologies, U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Kevin McLaughlin said at the 7th annual Responsive Space Conference here.
After directing the ORS Office during its first year of existence in 2007, McLaughlin was tapped to serve as vice commander of the Air Force Warfare Center at Nellis Air Force Base,
, which is responsible for training and equipping airmen to serve in the air, space and cyberspace domains. The past year working closely with warfighters has left him even more convinced than ever that the ability to rapidly augment and reconstitute space systems is essential.
“I was a huge skeptic of this,” McLaughlin said. “I was a ‘big space’ guy. I spent time in the [National Reconnaissance Office] and was a Titan 4 launch controller. I saw small satellites come and go over my career. I had to be convinced they could be built and had to be convinced they could make a difference in the long term.”
When McLaughlin first took the ORS director job, expectations were extraordinarily high. Before he even had a staff assembled, Congress and the Pentagon were asking him when his first satellite would launch. In addition, there were widely varying definitions of what exactly his office should be responsible for doing, with many in the national security space community hoping and expecting that the whole concept would fizzle out, he said.
When an execution strategy for the ORS Office was put into place, it had the office reporting directly to the executive agent for space and responding to urgent needs handed down directly from the commander of U.S. Strategic Command. Being able to assemble and launch satellites in a matter of days – something that is ultimately expected of the ORS Office – will require operating differently than the way most of the Pentagon operates, McLaughlin said. The ORS Office, he said, must operate as the National Reconnaissance Office operated in its early years, with short chains of command and direct access to the highest ranks of the department.
“I see the need to mainstream ORS capabilities,” he said. “But I still think the office has to operate out of the mainstream. … We don’t have six months to coordinate something everywhere in the [Defense] Department, and that flies in the face of how we operate in the department 95 percent of the time.”
Despite constraints on ORS funding that are likely to continue, the office cannot afford to let either of its mission areas fall by the wayside and simply must deliver widely usable space capabilities, McLaughlin said.
“The key is to realize the needs commanders have. If you can bring that to bear, if you have the capability to get something for [Army Gen. David] Petraeus, he would move heaven and Earth to make sure you get what you need to do that,” McLaughlin said.