The Air Force will soon provide the Defense Department with details of how it plans to procure new space command-and-control systems, per a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released Oct. 30.
The report, titled “Space Command and Control: Comprehensive Planning and Oversight Could Help DoD Acquire Critical Capabilities and Address Challenges,” examined how the Air Force has been working to consolidate its space C2 systems into one platform since the 1980s, as required by a House Armed Services Committee (HASC) report that accompanied the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Since 2016, the Air Force has worked on early prototype work for a space command and control system that would replace its current space situational awareness data computer system, the Space Defense Operations Center (SPADOC), the report noted. Early capabilities were being delivered as of mid-2019, but have not been approved for operational use. Meanwhile, the foundational elements, such as the new program’s infrastructure and software platform continue to be developed.
The GAO expressed its concern that management issues and technical complexity challenges will hamper the Air Force’s progress to bring its space C2 capabilities together, particularly as it follows the Defense Department’s novel agile development process.
“DoD officials have not yet determined what level of detail is appropriate for acquisition planning documentation for agile software programs,” the report said. “They are also not certain about the best way to provide oversight of these programs but are considering using assessments by external experts. These knowledge gaps run counter to DoD and industry best practices for acquisition and put the program at risk of not meeting mission objectives.
“Additionally, software integration and cybersecurity challenges exist, further complicating program development,” the report continued. “The Air Force has efforts underway to mitigate some of these challenges in the near term, but until the program develops a comprehensive acquisition strategy to more formally plan the program, it is too early to determine whether these efforts will help to ensure long-term program success.”
The report said that the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment directed the service’s space C2 program to submit a revised acquisition strategy in November that would align with the Pentagon’s overall draft agile software acquisition strategy template. Specific program metrics, contracting strategies and funding levels by year are expected to be included.
The Air Force said in a response to the GAO that the new submission should mitigate critiques that the service lacks a formal acquisition strategy. The report noted that program officials submitted a draft Space C2 acquisition strategy to the Office of the Secretary of Defense in late 2018, but stakeholders “rejected the draft as it lacked key attributes,” such as detail on the program’s management structure, system architecture and infrastructure definition, intellectual property and data rights strategy, and the program’s cost estimating methodology, among other components.
The GAO also called for a more formal system architecture, which the Air Force responded to by confirming such a review was scheduled to be submitted to the Pentagon by Oct. 31.