President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team has spoken with Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, as the incoming Biden administration faces important questions about a future path for military and commercial space capabilities.
“I have met with the transition team. I met with them this past week,” Raymond said in a virtual question and answer session with reporters on Dec. 15. “We had a really good conversation. I was happy to chat with them.”
Raymond declined to speculate on how the Biden administration’s space stance will differ from the current White House, but it looks likely that the U.S. Space Force, which will mark its first anniversary on Dec. 20, will continue into the new administration–not only because Space Force officials have made a convincing argument that the offensive space capabilities of China and Russia mandate a separate service dedicated to pursuing untrammeled U.S. access to space, but because cancelling the Space Force would require congressional action to reverse the service’s establishment in the Fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, P.L. 116-92.
Next year, the Space Force plans to establish Space Systems Command, a field command that will develop, acquire, launch, test and sustain space systems, Raymond said on Dec. 15.
Some agenda items for the sixth military service appear to be on hold. Nominees for the U.S. Space Force service acquisition executive (SAE) and an assistant secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition and Integration are unlikely before Biden assumes office Jan. 20.
For seven months, a final report on an Alternative Acquisition System for the U.S. Space Force has been stuck in what the Space Force said was “interagency coordination” with the White House Office of Management and Budget, but Raymond said in October that the final report was in the final stages of that coordination (Defense Daily, Oct. 28).
The Fiscal 2020 NDAA directed the secretary of the U.S. Air Force “to provide to the congressional defense committees a report on whether and, if so, how to implement an alternative acquisition system, due not later than March 31, 2020.”
“The report should include an assessment of the feasibility of a new acquisition system specifically tailored for space systems and programs, including with respect to procuring space vehicles, ground segments relating to such vehicles, and satellite terminals,” per the report.
Changing the acquisition process to allow rapid fielding of new space technologies to counter what DoD has said is the grave threat posed by Russia’s and China’s space technology advances has been a top priority for U.S. Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett and Raymond.
Barrett called reforming the space acquisition process “maybe the harshest fight there is and one of the most important fights there is.”
“You can’t build technology on a slow, lethargic acquisition system,” she said. “We’ve got to move fast.”
In May, the Air Force took back a draft Alternative Acquisition System for the U.S. Space Force report to Congress within a day of its submittal (Defense Daily, June 16). That draft report said that consolidating Budget Line Items (BLIs) to manage U.S Space Force (USSF) “space programs at portfolio levels is the most important recommendation in this report.”
“The primary benefits are enabling rapid responses to emergent threats in the year of execution that drive a need for realignment of funds and increasing overall space purchasing power through more efficient financial management at the portfolio level,” the draft report said, adding that the Air Force “should consolidate BLIs based on mission portfolios (e.g. Missile Warning and Defense, Communications and Navigation, Offensive Space Control, Defensive Space Control, Launch and Mission Support).”
The proposed portfolio approach to allow rapid re-programming for the Space Force would likely face a stiff challenge in Congress.