We all know that defense acquisition has traditionally been a long, slow process. In the old days, the process was frustrating, but acceptable. It met our defense needs. The pace was good enough to keep the United States at the forefront of defense development. These days, requirements and advances in technology are evolving at light speed and have significantly outpaced our bureaucracy-heavy acquisition processes. Now, House Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Mike Rogers aims to make some dramatic changes to how the U.S. achieves the advantage in space.
Government Accountability Office (GAO) report after report have rather meticulously worked to unravel the complexity of the nation’s space acquisition programs. Development and fielding of new technologies in most any category is a difficult, fiercely competitive. Development and fielding of new technologies that are compatible with older technology and, as well, interoperable with emerging technology, all the more difficult. Synchronizing research and development of interoperable tech-heavy assets that range the private, commercial sector to the most sensitive defense operations support, exponentially more difficult. Now, try doing all that, quickly, for space acquisition. By the time the U.S. can research, develop, and deploy new technology, it’s not new technology any more.
GAO’s April 15, 2015 testimony to the House Strategic Forces Subcommittee is perhaps the most direct, understandable explanation of the problem: DOD’s culture has generally been resistant to changes in acquisition approaches, as we have reported, and fragmented responsibilities in DOD space programs have made it difficult to implement new processes and coordinate and deliver interdependent systems.”
“’The next war, space will be one of the first things our adversaries go after, taking our eyes and ears out . . . . We don’t have enough resilience or the ability to respond in like kind. Our adversaries have gotten offensive capability and we’ve never. It’s not like we’re weaponizing space, it’s already been weaponized.’” That’s how Chairman Mike Rogers sees it, according to Defense News’ report.
Rogers recognizes the vital role space plays today, and will play more and more in the future, from both a defense and economic perspective. Defense News Joe Gould and Valerie Insinna report, “The Alabama Republican told Defense News he plans in 2017 to spearhead a major reorganization of the way the US government manages space capabilities — yielding changes that are ‘very disruptive’ but ultimately positive.” According to Defense News, Rogers’ reorganization is about accelerating the research, acquisition, and development bureaucracy so defense can keep pace with countries that represent a threat to our national security in space. Central to that sort of reorganization is a single head of national space operations.
DoD’s current solution has been a principal DoD space advisor (PDSA), a seat filled by the Secretary of the Air Force; however, Rogers would argue that the PDSA has little power to pull the multi-faceted efforts across both the Department of Defense and the private sector together, and even the Air Force Secretary herself recognizes the problem, though she’s not keen on supporting another new office or agency. In her view, that means more people, more money, and more bureaucracy.
Chairman Rogers believes we can overcome our space deficit, and it will take significant reorganization, some pain, some disruption. But, over the long term, aerospace needs a DoD system that’s more user friendly, and faster, and DoD needs a process that’s “more agile and responsive.”
If Rogers is right, then 2017 could be the year we turn the corner in space.