U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson in conversation with SpaceNews at the 34th Space Symposium on April 18, 2018. Credit: SpaceNews

You’re reading the SN Military.Space newsletter we publish Tuesdays. If you would like to get our news and insights for military space professionals before everyone else, sign up here for your free subscription.

HOT TOPIC: Military space acquisition reforms underway. Prototyping is back. IC can’t get enough AI. Commercial data boom creates trust issues

U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson in conversation with SpaceNews at the 34th Space Symposium on April 18, 2018. Credit: SpaceNews
U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson in conversation with SpaceNews at the 34th Space Symposium on April 18, 2018. Credit: SpaceNews

WILSON SHAKES UP MILITARY SPACE. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson made news last week at the Space Symposium with major announcements on the reorganization of Space and Missile Systems Center and the standup of a new office to eliminate bottlenecks in the system. In an interview with SpaceNews, Wilson laid out the upcoming reforms and her plans to “move fast” in space.

Watch the video here.

THOMPSON: CHANGE WON’T HAPPEN OVERNIGHT. SMC Commander Lt. Gen. John Thompson told reporters last week that SMC 2.0 is about tearing down stovepipes and “getting after resilience in a big way.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR SATELLITE COMMUNICATIONS? Congress added two WGS satellites that the Air Force did not request. Thompson: “We’re absolutely going to adhere to the intent of the Congress. But I don’t think this impacts our long term strategy in terms of looking at more potential partnerships in the commercial area.”

WGS MANUFACTURER BOEING RAMPING UP. Boeing is ready to start building WGS 11 and 12. The company will use accelerated production methods to get WGS on a “commercial timeline.” And, in case you missed our story last week, Boeing decided to not compete for the next production lot of GPS 3. The thinking is that it would not stand a strong change to unseat incumbent Lockheed Martin.

AIR FORCE NOT WORRIED ABOUT LACK OF COMPETITION: Even if Lockheed ends up being the only bidder, there are policies to “ensure we get a good deal,” said Thompson. “There is rigorous cost estimating and legal cost reviews regardless of how many offers we have.”

SMC BOTTOM LINE: “We need to be more innovative, go faster, take advantage of partnerships. Now is the right time to redesign how we manage programs,” said Thompson. In the short term, “You’re not going to see big changes in RFIs, RFPs.” Over time, SMC will go after “insulated programs.” Thompson: “We have to manage across the enterprise, take advantage of similarities, manage more crossways.”

BRING ON THE PROTOTYPES: “Instead of automatically defaulting to very large exquisite programs of record, we want to do more prototyping and experimentation,” said Thompson. The vehicle to do that will be “other transactions authorities,” a more flexible contracting approach. “OTA is an opportunity to reach out to non traditional firms,” Thompson said. “Congress has been fantastic in giving us OTA authorities. They help us with experimentation and prototyping.”

BUDGET: GOOD TIMES LIKELY OVER BY 2019. Aerospace Industries Association CEO Eric Fanning in a keynote at the Space Symposium last week warned industry not to get complacent about budgets. The mood at the symposium was ebullient following a major budget increase Congress passed in March for the Defense Department. “This optimism is tempered by a realization of the fleeting nature of the recent bipartisan budget deal,” Fanning warned. “A new fiscal cliff is looming in October 2019. Unless Congress acts affirmatively, both defense and domestic discretionary agencies like NASA and NOAA, whose satellites are critical for weather forecasts, would have their budgets cut by a staggering 10 percent.”

ULA, BOEING, LOCKHEED CORNER SPACE MARKET. Analysis of government contracting data by Govini from 2011 to 2017 sheds light on established companies’ overwhelming dominance of the DoD and NASA space markets. But SpaceX has been moving up.


GEOINT 2018 Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Joseph Kernan on Monday addressed the nation’s largest gathering of geospatial intelligence professionals to relay the message that the military is in the market for cutting-edge technology. DoD needs help making sense of the intelligence it collects. It needs powerful artificial intelligence software tools that the tech industry is advancing at a fast pace. Kernan raved about Project Maven, where Google-developed AI algorithms are used to mine live video feeds from drones. So far it has been “extraordinarily” useful in overseas operations. “I would have liked to have had it in my past,” said Kernan, a former special operations commander.

COMMERCIAL IMAGERY IS VERY COOL, BUT CAN IT BE TRUSTED? Unclassified satellite data has never been more sophisticated or affordable, but vendors looking to sell to the government have to break down trust barriers. U.S. intelligence analysts were raised to view unclassified data as less valuable than classified information, Robert Cardillo, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, told reporters at GEOINT 2018.


DARPA LAUNCH CHALLENGE The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will offer a top prize of $10 million to the team whose vehicle is able to perform two launches of small satellites, from two different sites, on short notice. First launch slated for late 2019. The location of the launch site will be announced only weeks in advance, and teams will have only days to integrate and launch the DARPA-provided payload.

AIR FORCE, NRO COLLABORATION INTENSIFIES Air Force Space Command Commander Gen. John Raymond says the military partnership increasingly is teaming up with the National Reconnaissance Office on space issues. NRO Director Betty Sapp: “The need to work together to help each other toward resiliency in a shared space has given us more touch points and more opportunities to work together than ever before.”

CHINA’S SPACE ECONOMY Based on the number of intellectual property patents filed on space technologies, it appears China is creating an IP-friendly climate to attract space entrepreneurs and become a hotbed of space innovation, according to a new report by the data analytics firm Govini.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

Email Format

View previous campaigns.

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...