— Military space and missile defense programs likely face significant scrutiny over the next several years regardless of whether U.S. President-elect BarackObama’s national security team includes the Pentagon’s current acquisition czar.
Chris Isleib, a spokesman for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, said that John Young, the current undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, has not yet been notified as to whether he will be kept on after Obama is sworn in Jan. 20.
Young, who was confirmed by the Senate for his post in November 2007, has elevated the priority of space within the Pentagon through efforts including the June creation of the position of director of space and intelligence capabilities in his office, according to Robert Walker, an aerospace lobbyist. Young filled that position with Josh Hartman, a senior advisor and former congressional aide well known for his advocacy of satellite programs such as the Operationally Responsive Space efforts.
Young also has been known for encouraging the military to take further advantage of commercially available technology and capabilities, said Walker, a former chairman of the House Science Committee.
Young’s actions in this area include putting the brakes on a Pentagon effort to develop broad-area remote sensing satellites similar to those operated by commercial imagery providers, noting that doing so would break with policy directing the government to utilize commercial products for this purpose to the greatest extent possible. He also directed the military to study the possibility of accelerating work on the development of new radar reconnaissance satellites by relying heavily on commercially available technology.
said that despite a recent article in The Washington Post quoting a source close to Obama’s transition team saying Young is on his way out, he has heard Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants to keep Young on his team after Obama takes office.
However, Brett Lambert, managing director of the Civitas Group, a Washington consulting firm, said that it is far more likely that Obama’s transition team will elect to balance the continuity of Gates’ leadership with an infusion of new blood in senior civilian positions.
The retention of Gates, coupled with broader federal budget considerations, could mean the Pentagon will find it tough to get new space acquisition programs off the ground, Lambert said. He noted that Gates has been frustrated with the Pentagon’s acquisition problems in general and has had an opportunity to witness the U.S. Air Force struggle with its major space efforts. Gates also has enough experience to know when program projections may be overly optimistic, Lambert added.
One important variable for both space and aircraft programs is who the Obama administration taps for Air Force secretary, Lambert said. While Lambert believes the administration is likely to put an advocate for change in that position, he said major new acquisition programs could face less scrutiny if the top Air Force spot is filled by a retired general, for example, who may be more reluctant to challenge the service culture and may not intend to stay in the position very long.
Lambert said the Obama administration may embrace missile defense programs with less enthusiasm than the team led by President George W. Bush.
While the Bush administration has viewed the Ground Based Midcourse Defense System as playing a lead role in protecting the
against countries like
, Obama’s team appears to see it playing a lesser role and likely has more concern about the system’s effectiveness thus far in intercept testing, Lambert said.
This could lead to a reduction in orders for interceptors for national missile defense sites in Alaska and California, and a slowing down of construction of a third site in Poland, Lambert said.