This article was first published in the SN Military.Space newsletter. If you would like to get our news and insights for national security space professionals every Tuesday, sign up here for your free subscription.
When the Pentagon revealed March 13 that the Space Development Agency had been officially created, the reaction was a mix of confusion, excitement and disappointment. The Air Force for months had opposed efforts by Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin to stand up a new agency to take over the development of next-generation space systems. President Trump demanded a Space Force but never asked for the SDA. So why the rush to set up a new agency without first coordinating with the rest of the Air Force’s space research and procurement community, lawmakers from California and New Mexico have asked.
In case you missed it in the latest issue of SpaceNews magazine, here’s the inside story of how the SDA was conceived after Griffin decided that the traditional DoD organizations could not innovate fast enough to stay ahead of rivals China and Russia.
Griffin’s successful push to establish the SDA, however, is not the end of the battle. Congress has yet to approve the Pentagon’s budget request for 2020, which includes $149 million for the SDA. The Air Force Association in a new policy paper comes out strongly both against the Space Force and the SDA. “Establishing a new Space Development Agency only adds to the panoply of space agencies that the Vice President properly laments. It is not necessary and is redundant given the reforms of the Space and Missile Systems Center 2.0 effort,” argues AFA.
SDA Director Fred Kennedy has laid out an ambitious agenda. He said the agency will tap into the commercial space industry’s capabilities to produce and launch cheap satellites into low Earth orbit. Commercial systems will be the foundation to develop military constellations to be used for communications, surveillance, missile warning and global navigation.
In recent online comments, Kennedy insisted that the SDA will not work in isolation and plans to team up with other organizations. “We welcome (require!) peer review of SDA’s concepts and proposed systems, and intend to stand up a very capable red team to strengthen our architecture and ensure we are not simply drinking our own bath water,” Kennedy wrote. “Close cooperation with the Services and the Combatant Commands — not to mention the intel community — will be absolutely essential.”