Senate NDAA directs independent review how the Space Force acquires technologies

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The bill directs a joint review by the Defense Business Board and the Defense Innovation Board

WASHINGTON — In its proposed 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, the Senate Armed Services Committee directs the Pentagon’s outside business advisors to review the acquisition process for space programs, and specifically whether the current approach is “agile enough for the rapid development of space acquisition systems to keep pace with today’s space industry.”

The SASC approved the bill June 16 and released the full text July 18 before sending it to the Senate floor.

In a report accompanying the NDAA, the committee notes that despite congressional efforts to consolidate space acquisition authorities from multiple agencies under a new civilian leader, it remains unclear whether these reforms are producing the intended results.  

The bill directs a joint review by the Defense Business Board and the Defense Innovation Board. These are panels of business and technology experts that provide insights and recommendations to the secretary of defense.

Congress in the 2020 NDAA signed into law a “fundamental reorganization of the way the Department of Defense conducts space operations and the acquisition to support those operations,” says the SASC report. The legislation that established the U.S. Space also created a separate service acquisition executive for space

“The primary intent was to centralize space acquisition for the armed forces under the space SAE,” states the committee. 

In the 2021 NDAA, Congress passed other provisions on space acquisitions, notably transferring the Space Development Agency from the Office of the Secretary of Defense to the Space Force, and gave the space SAE oversight of the SDA, the Space Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) and the Space Systems Command (SSC).

The 2022 NDAA further consolidated space acquisition, elevating the role of the space SAE to have oversight of space acquisition across the U.S. armed services. It renamed the Space Force Acquisition Council to the Space Acquisition Council and gave it authority to review all military space acquisition projects.

These three consecutive NDAAs have resulted in a “fundamental reform of space acquisition for the armed forces,” the SASC says. However, the committee suggests that it’s not clear that these congressional efforts have made space acquisitions any more agile or more efficient. 

Of concern to the committee is that senior acquisition leaders continue to refer to the space acquisition process as a “unity of effort between the SSC, Space RCO, SDA, and Missile Defense Agency.”

Before mandating any more reforms in the NDAA, the SASC wants to get fresh perspectives from the Defense Business Board and the Defense Innovation Board. 

The boards will be asked to “review the unity of effort decision making process … and whether the unity of effort process is agile enough for the rapid development of space acquisition systems to keep pace with today’s space industry,” says the SASC. “The two boards shall consider all options, from retaining the existing unity of effort structure to developing a clean sheet approach to space acquisition.”

The SASC wants the advisory boards to report back by March 31, 2023.