Air Force Center Sees New Teams As Key To Faster Space Acquisition

The U.S. Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) is forming several teams to increase communication and coordination across the 6,300-person organization and ultimately reduce the time it takes to acquire satellites and other equipment.

SMC, which is headquartered at Los Angeles Air Force Base in California, is currently “stove-piped by mission area,” meaning little interaction takes place between programs unless a top official steps in, said Lt. Gen. John Thompson, SMC’s commander. 

Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (Air Force photo)

Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of the Air Force's Space and Missile Systems Center (Air Force photo)

In addition, because SMC is “very hierarchical,” new ideas that originate at the bottom of the organization “have to fight their way into the top,” which is a time-consuming process.

“It’s a great industrial-age model for building space weapon systems in a benign environment that have to be technically excellent and dependable,” Thompson said at a June 8 event hosted by the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute. Now that space is increasingly contested, “it’s time to get rid of the industrial-age model.”

A new Development Corps will pursue commonalities and other efficiencies among development programs, and a Production Corps will do the same for more mature programs. While SMC spends about $2 billion a year on three Lockheed Martin [LMT]-built satellite constellations, communication among those programs today is “basically nonexistent,” Thompson said.

A Portfolio Architect will lead a team providing technical oversight across SMC programs and managing outreach to other agencies and allies. The team will have about 150 to 200 people, including a chief innovation officer and a chief partnership officer.

An Enterprise Corps will oversee things “that everybody needs,” such as launches, cyber security and test and evaluation. An Atlas Corps will handle such "staff" tasks as cost estimates, mission assurance and independent reviews of new technical approaches.

The teams will practice their new roles with pilot programs, or “pacesetters.” For the portfolio architect, for example, a pacesetter will be expanded research and development cooperation with an undisclosed ally. For the procurement corps, a pacesetter will involve having Boeing [BA] perform more of the mission assurance for its 11th and 12th Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) satellites

SMC plans to hold an industry day in late July to brief companies on the new teams and other steps the center is taking to revamp itself. The event will also give those firms an opportunity to give the Air Force feedback on the reorganization.

“It is going to be a discussion, not a ‘hey, here’s what it is, and if you don’t like it then tough,’” he said.

The reorganization, called SMC 2.0, is slated to achieve an initial operational capability in October. Thompson hopes to start seeing results three to five months after that.

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