Full integration of spacecraft into other operational military systems, fixing U.S. Air Force acquisition programs, and developing a better-trained military and civilian work force top the list of priorities for Ron Sega, the new undersecretary of the Air Force.
In a speech and in an interview here during the Strategic Space 2005 conference sponsored by Space News and the Space Foundation, Sega said it is “time to get back to basics.”
Like a number of speakers at the two-day conference, Sega noted in his Oct. 6 address that the U.S. military satellites already in orbit are highly successful and give American forces a dominant advantage. Many, he said, are performing much better than expected, and operating well past their design lives.
“Space is really, really important. It is absolutely indispensable in every aspect of how we plan and conduct military operations,” added Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael A. Hamel, commander, Space and Missile Systems, Air Force Space Command.
Fixing the problems with space programs now in development, Sega said, is essential for keeping the U.S. advantage in the future.
Sega said part of the reason for the cost overruns and delays plaguing major U.S. military space programs is that the Air Force and industry have lost a great deal of their systems engineering expertise over the last decade. Restoring that systems engineering capability would help the Air Force restore discipline into the acquisition process, he said.
In outlining the back-to-basics approach he intends to insist on for space acquisition, Sega emphasized: improving the Air Force’s cost estimates; making much greater use of proven hardware for operational systems; designing a program for testing at key phases of development and manufacturing; and increased government oversight of projects.
Sega said the Air Force must reduce the time it takes to get satellite programs from the drawing board to the launch pad. One of the ways to accomplish that , he said, will be getting Air Force acquisition people to take a hard look at the technical maturity of spacecraft components and sensors with an eye toward reducing risk .
Sega said that while he was not suggesting a risk-free approach, the Air Force needs to utilize designs that have a much higher level of technical maturity than many of today’s programs. New technology, he said, should first be developed in experimental programs, then tested on what he called developmental spacecraft and, once proven, incorporated into the designs of operational systems.
The state of space acquisition programs was one of the major topics addressed during the two-day conference.
Most if not all of the Air Force’s major established satellite development programs are significantly over budget and behind schedule. Newer projects, such as the Space Radar and Transformational Satellite (T-Sat) communications system, are being scrutinized by members of Congress who are leery of more big programs that could experience similar problems.
The Senate version of the 2006 Defense Appropriations Act recommends cutting $250 million from the Air Force’s $836 million request for the T-Sat program. The bill also proposes fencing off $150 million of the money remaining for the possible acquisition of another Advanced Extremely High Frequency (EHF) satellite in case T-Sat encounters substantial development delays. The House of Representatives is recommending a $400 million cut in the T-Sat program.
Report language accompanying the Senate bill directed the Air Force to come up with a plan within four months of the bill’s passage “to improve space acquisition and re-establish the proud legacy of successful satellite development.”
Richard W. McKinney, director of space acquisition in the office of the undersecretary of the Air Force, said Sega will spend a full day the week of Oct. 10 reviewing the status of “the full run” of military satellite telecommunications programs.
In an Oct. 6 interview, McKinney and Sega said that review is just the first of several in-depth reviews Sega is expected to make. “This will take months. It is very complicated,” McKinney said. “It won’t be the only review he does of it.”
The Senate also recommended cutting $126 million from the Pentagon’s $226 million request for the Space Radar program. The report accompanying the Senate bill noted that the current cost projections for the program are “very high and bring into question the program’s affordability.”
When asked if he was concerned that Congress will continue to be reluctant to fund Space Radar, Sega said the key will be the recommendations of the Quadrennial Defense Review currently under way.
An endorsement of the Space Radar’s capabilities in the review likely would heavily influence Congress’ view of the program, Sega said.
Sega also said he will be working with U.S. Strategic Command to get space communications and sensor platforms fully integrated with the land, sea, air and subsurface systems needed for modern military operations.