Myles Crandall

Vice President, Strategic Development Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co.

After having a front-row seat to the challenges affecting the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) High missile warning program — once referred to as the poster child for much of the problems in the military space acquisition business — Myles Crandall may be particularly grateful for the U.S. Air Force’s back-to-basics approach to space acquisition.

Crandall, who served as Lockheed Martin’s SBIRS High program manager from December 2001 through June 2005, says that the more stable approach to funding and requirements, as well as renewed attention to detail, has helped the SBIRS effort get back on track.

The recently adopted approach to space systems also is helping to ensure that the programs he now is helping the company pursue as vice president for strategic development get off on the right foot and do not head down the wrong path, he says. Crandall’s current position was created in 2005 as part of an effort to increase the company’s focus on strategic planning. Crandall, a native of Van Nuys, Calif., who earned a degree in business administration from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, also serves as the company’s San Francisco Bay Area site executive, handling tasks including meeting with local government officials while Joanne Maguire, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space Systems, is busy at other company locations.

In addition to helping get SBIRS back on track, Crandall believes that the back-to-basics approach will help the service and the defense industry avoid similar problems on satellites that Lockheed Martin hopes to build, including GPS 3 and the Transformational Satellite Communications System.

Crandall talked about his views on the back-to-basics approach and other issues during a Nov. 9 interview with Space News staff writer Jeremy Singer.

Is military space acquisition still broken?

I think all the right actions are being taken to avoid further problems like those caused by acquisition reform [in the 1990s], where too much risk was allowed in space programs.

The Pentagon has become extremely focused on getting back to basics, asking the right questions before allowing space programs to move past milestones, and ensuring that requirements and funding are kept stable.

What was it like to work on the programs before the back-to-basics approach?

It put a lot of pressure on the customer, the prime contractors and the subcontractors. It was frustrating at times to see decisions that had been made years ago coming home to roost — like the lack of investment in systems engineering, or the lack of funding for test articles or lab equipment. It was a higher risk profile, and there were not a lot of opportunities to mitigate that risk.

Was that nerve racking?

Everyone loves a challenge, but it was something where there are so many pressures on you — cost pressures, schedule pressures and fundamental weakness in program plans. We probably burned out a lot of people trying to do things, where we could have taken a lower-risk approach and probably had a higher degree of programmatic success.

In those times, one of the largest elements of source selection criteria was price — who bid lowest. That’s not a healthy environment when building complex systems.

Some Pentagon and congressional officials have expressed concern in the past over potential gaps on SBIRS High — is this still an issue?

I’m more concerned about gaps in some of the classified programs, but I’m not going to talk about them. I think that SBIRS has turned the corner. The back-to-basics approach has helped keep the funding stable, and we have been able to retire some of the risk that was not dealt with earlier because of inadequacies with the program plan.

The Pentagon’s acquisition chief had called for curbing the planned purchase of five SBIRS satellites at no more than three in a memo last December, and moving to an alternative missile-warning constellation. Do you still see the potential to launch all five of the satellites initially envisioned under SBIRS?

Yes I do. SBIRS is designed for missile warning, cueing missile defense, intelligence and battlespace characterization. All four of those mission areas are being met with SBIRS as designed.

Now the question is figuring out what lowest-risk approach is going forward. We have a program in a recurring mode, and believe buying satellites three through five is a lower-risk approach than a new start, but that’s a decision that the Pentagon will have to make. We have reviews very frequently with the senior decision-makers, and they are very pleased with the progress that we have made on SBIRS.

Regardless of when it begins launching a constellation, the Pentagon appears to be committed to moving forward with an upgraded system to follow SBIRS — are you looking at designs for a follow-on system?

Right now we are focused very heavily on executing the program of record. We don’t want anything to defocus us there. If the customer wants us to look at leveraging our work on SBIRS for a follow-on system, we would support those activities.

We’ve participated in industry days for the Alternative Infrared Satellite System, and have talked to our customers about the capabilities needed for what will follow the first two SBIRS satellites, and when is the right time for block changes.

Could you put a new sensor on the third and fourth SBIRS satellites that enables the military to continuously stare at the entire Earth, as envisioned with the Alternative Infrared Satellite System?

Doing a full-staring sensor on SBIRS 3 and 4 that would be like a new start — most likely riskier than building the program of record.

Are you confident that Lockheed Martin could meet the Pentagon’s goal to accelerate the launch of the GPS 3 constellation by two years?

We’re not going to jeopardize mission success. We want to maintain an acceptable risk profile. If we can accomplish that, we’d be glad to support the government’s desire to accelerate the program, but not at the expense of mission success or adding too much risk. These programs are too important to fall back to the risk taking that was done early on with space programs.

How difficult would it be to tell the Air Force that their desire to accelerate the program is too risky?

I’m going to trust that the customer doesn’t want a price shootout, or want unacceptable risk, and wants to understand the risk, and award the GPS 3 contract on the right profile with the right technical solutions. We were successful in a classified procurement recently that I can’t talk about, but it wasn’t decided strictly on price, it was about risk.

That customer said “don’t just offer the lowest price — we want success.” It is difficult to say no to a customer, but we think that there has been some evidence of that type of mature thinking going on in the source selections. The Pentagon leadership seems to be on the same page, and everyone wants the same thing — not to give program directors too much risk.

What opportunities do you see on the horizon for NASA business?

We were just selected for three Discovery missions; they’ll select which of the three that they will pursue. We also have a role in maintaining the shuttle for the rest of its life, and are very much involved with ensuring mission success for the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle. We just heard about the Hubble servicing mission, and there is a lot of work that we need to do to make sure that it is conducted successfully.

We don’t see big programs coming up, but we do expect to be involved with a lot of very interesting, worthwhile endeavors for NASA.