WASHINGTON — The Space Force’s top development and procurement official sent a message to the acquisition workforce this week, calling on the enterprise to prioritize speed as it fields satellites and ground systems.
“Former approaches of developing a small amount of large satellites along with large, monolithic ground systems that took many years to develop on cost-plus contracts can no longer be the norm,” Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition and Integration Frank Calvelli said in an Oct. 31 memo.
Calvelli was sworn into his role in May and is the first acquisition executive dedicated to developing space capabilities. The memo, obtained by C4ISRNET and first reported by Space News, comes on the heels of the Oct. 27 public release of the National Defense Strategy. The high-level document stresses the need for “resilient and redundant” satellite constellations in light of threats and increasingly “reckless” behavior from China and Russia.
“In the space domain, the department will reduce adversary incentives for early attack by fielding diverse, resilient and redundant satellite constellations,” the National Defense Strategy states. “We will bolster our ability to fight through disruption by improving defensive capabilities and increasing options for reconstitution.”
Against that backdrop, Calvelli’s memo lays out his nine acquisition tenets, which he said will serve as “guideposts” for the service.
Those tenets include: building smaller satellites and ground systems; establishing solid acquisition strategies at the start of a program; enabling cooperation between contracting officers and program managers; awarding executable contracts; maintaining program stability; avoiding overclassification; delivering ground systems early; holding industry accountable for cost and schedule commitments; and delivering capabilities that work.
“As threats to space systems continue to evolve, and as space becomes even more important in protecting and giving an advantage to our troops, timely deliver of space capabilities becomes even more critical for our nation,” Calvelli said.
Most of the Space Force’s acquisition personnel reside at Space Systems Command, which is located at Los Angeles Space Force Base in California. During a recent Space Industry Days conference there, SSC officials said the command is rethinking the way it builds capability, opting for incremental, frequent deliveries over the more traditional large and complex programs.
Claire Leon, director of SSC’s system-of-systems integration office, said during an Oct. 19 presentation at the conference that the command is now structuring programs to field new capability releases every two years. That approach is similar to the Space Development Agency’s plan to launch new missile tracking and communication satellites on two-year intervals.
Leon said program executive officers at Space Systems Command are building mission-area roadmaps that include projections about how much funding they’ll need in order to deliver at that two-year cadence. That approach means that the first iteration of a system may not have “all the bells and whistles,” but will instead focus on a particular technology that future releases can build on.
“We’re trying not to do the old programs of record where you start with a massive, prescriptive requirements document, put out a [request for proposals] and 10 years later, 12 years later, you end up with a program of record being launched,” she said. “I think you’ll see some fundamental shifts in how we’re trying to do business that is really much more agile.”
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.