WASHINGTON — The creation of the U.S. Space Force has helped streamline fragmented space acquisition organizations, but the Pentagon is still not equipped to procure next-generation space systems at the pace required to maintain dominance, according to a new report by the Defense Business Board.

The Defense Business Board is an advisory committee that provides independent business advice to the Department of Defense. A nine-member subcommittee over the past six months reviewed the military space acquisition system at the request of Congress.

The Senate Armed Services Committee in the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act directed DoD to examine the decision-making process for space acquisitions, and whether it’s agile enough to capture the technological advances coming from private industry. 

The report points out that consolidating oversight functions under the four-year-old Space Force has set stronger foundations for agile space procurement.  However, legacy approaches embedded in the broader Defense Department acquisition structure are still too bureaucratic and slow-rolling to match the speed of space industry advancements. This disconnect puts pressure on national security space efforts, the report cautioned.

While military acquisition has its merits, the system must become more flexible and empower program managers to tailor approaches to each program’s unique needs, said the report. This would allow the Space Force to capitalize on private-sector innovations rather than be left behind by them.

The Senate Armed Services Committee in its report in the 2023 NDAA bemoaned the fact that despite recent reforms to space operations and acquisitions, senior leaders often talk about the coordination that must take place between multiple agencies — including the Space Force’s Space Systems. Command, the Space Rapid Capabilities Office, the Space Development Agency and the Missile Defense Agency.

The Defense Business Board suggests more authorities could be given to the office of the Space Force’s senior acquisition executive — currently led by Frank Calvelli, assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration.   

Space acquisition professionals, said the report, should be further empowered and receive more specialized training focused on space systems, so they can better “understand the motivations and challenges of venture capital-backed and private equity startup companies to better leverage their innovative technologies.”

Board recognizes recent initiatives

The board also noted that “significant barriers inhibit access to commercial innovation,” such as security clearance requirements and cumbersome processes. 

“The dynamic nature of today’s space industry requires a different approach to develop proficient acquisition professionals with business acumen,” the report said.

Despite these criticisms, the subcommittee said it was “impressed by the professionalism and ambition of the various Space Force and DoD agencies.”

The report gave praise to a recent Space Force initiative known as “integrated mission deltas” where operators and acquisition professionals are placed under the same unit.  

The Defense Business Board commended the Space Systems Command’s Commercial Space Office, which “adds momentum and potentially dollars towards the service’s strategy to exploit commercial capabilities. And it also expressed approval of Calvelli’s “space acquisition tenets.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...