The U.S. Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) is engaged in a multi-pronged effort to speed up its acquisition of satellites and other equipment, the center’s leader said Nov. 2.

One step involves giving leaders of SMC’s directorates more responsibility for the smaller programs they manage, said Lt. Gen. John Thompson, who became the center’s commander about five months ago. Those programs total about $3 billion in annual spending.

Air Force Lt. Gen. John Thompson (Air Force photo)
Air Force Lt. Gen. John Thompson (Air Force photo)

“I delegate the responsibility for them to execute, but I can’t delegate the accountability,” Thompson told reporters at the Pentagon. “I’ve got to still be accountable for those programs, and I will in turn hold them very accountable for the execution of those programs.”

Another step involves making greater use of existing authorities, such as those that would allow SMC to “jump over large parts of the requirements process,” he said. Such authorities would help the center “get after those areas in the portfolio where we know our adversaries are very close to our level of capabilities or [where] we feel like we’re behind and need to catch up.”

SMC also plans to: do more demonstrations, prototyping and experimentation to inexpensively prove concepts before launching full-fledged programs; make greater use of the commercial sector’s small payloads and rapid launch capabilities; and do more partnerships with rapid acquisition organizations “to take advantage of economies of scale but also to learn how they do things so quickly and so effectively,” Thompson said.

Tapping the expertise of the 70-plus space operators embedded at SMC is also expected to help the center speed up acquisition.

“I find that having that operator perspective right next to the acquisition officer – that engineer, that program manager, that contracting officer — really helps in terms of defining requirements and setting priorities for what the next increment of capability that needs to be delivered should be focused on,” Thompson said.

SMC, which is headquartered at Los Angeles Air Force Base in California, is also trying to curb tendencies to “go overboard” with paperwork. Thompson wants to see only documentation that is truly needed.

“Instead of the three-foot stack of paperwork that documents a decision, maybe a one-foot stack of paperwork is fine,” he said.

The reason for all these measures is that acquisition is shifting from a focus on predictability to one “where innovation, agility, getting things delivered as quickly as possible plays a more prime role in how we execute acquisition programs,” Thompson explained. “I’ve been tasked to figure out how Space and Missile Systems Center can do things more quickly within our enterprise.”