Space Development Agency is priority one for DoD. But what exactly will the SDA do?

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SN Military.Space Sandra Erwin

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said he expects a new Space Development Agency to be in place sometime in the first quarter of 2019.

The accelerated schedule reflects his belief that the SDA is an essential piece of the Pentagon’s strategy to leap ahead technologically as China and Russia step up investments in counter-space systems. Both Shanahan and Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin have been staunch advocates of an overhaul in the way DoD procures technology and regard the new space agency as an important catalyst for change.

Critics point out, however, that DoD has yet to explain what the SDA will do or how it will fit with the existing space procurement organizations in the Air Force, the Army, the Navy and the intelligence community.

Budget analyst Todd Harrison, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said last week that he did not include the SDA in his cost estimates for a Space Force because it was not clear to him what this agency will be doing.

A DoD source noted that Shanahan over the past several months has articulated many potential missions for the SDA but there are still many unanswered questions on why a new agency is the only solution.

At a media roundtable in August, Shanahan said DoD “has made leveraging commercial technology too complicated” and the SDA would make that easier. In a speech in September, he said the SDA will support “rapid product development.” Speaking with reporters in October, Shanahan said one of the goals for the SDA is to do “systems engineering” to help integrate commercial and military communications networks. The SDA also would be the organization that would organize and align space efforts “so we don’t solve the same problem multiple times,” said Shanahan. In an interview with Defense News, he said the SDA would “drive standards and integration.” But later during a press gaggle, Shanahan said the primary goal of the SDA is to field capabilities and not to dictate architectures or standards.

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