As the Department of Defense responds to new developments and guidelines related to the global COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, officials within the Air Force and Space Force are moving ahead with plans to craft new space acquisition guidelines at a virtual April 9 meeting.
Since the Space Force was formally established last December, a team within the Pentagon has been working diligently to respond to requirements within the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that seek to define how space equipment will be procured in the future.
Required reports to Congress and ongoing meetings between principals continue with a slight delay due to the coronavirus’ impact on the Pentagon, but with a steady battle rhythm, said Shawn Barnes, a member of the Senior Executive Service within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Space Acquisition and Integration.
Plans remain on track to deliver a report on space acquisition alternatives to Congress in the near future and convene an April 9 meeting with the nascent Space Force Acquisition Council, Barnes said in a March 24 interview with Defense Daily.
However, the report’s transmission to Capitol Hill will likely be delayed as the Office of the Secretary of Defense tackles the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic across the entire department, he noted.
“It won’t surprise me if it takes a little bit longer to get through the Secretary of Defense and then over to the Hill,” Barnes said.
The April 9 meeting will take place virtually as U.S. military personnel continue to be restricted from non-mission-essential travel through May 11. But that restriction has not slowed down acquisition planning much as Barnes’ team has already been virtually interacting with West Coast principals such as Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) Commander Lt. Gen. John “JT” Thompson, he noted.
“We’ve got plenty to do that is not classified because it’s really about process and policy,” he said. “So from a battle rhythm standpoint, from my perspective, I think it’s going really well.”
Members of the council’s April 9 meeting will discuss items including its future charter, and further define the Pentagon’s space acquisition architecture, building off of discussions that took place at an initial “architecture summit” Barnes held in late February, he said.
“The purpose of that [summit] was not to look at the capabilities that are part of our national security space architecture, but rather to look at who are the people and what are the organizations that are doing architecting work,” Barnes said. The February summit included representatives from SMC, housed at Los Angeles Air Force Base, California; the Space Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico; and the Space Development Agency (SDA), stood up last year under the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering at the Pentagon.
In March, Barnes’ team held a shorter missile warning and missile tracking architecture summit that included representatives of the Air Force, Space Force, SDA and Missile Defense Agency (MDA), which are all participating in developing the next-generation missile warning/missile tracking architecture.
The results of that meeting will be fleshed out in an architecture report that is due April 8 to Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, who is dual-hatted as the commander of U.S. Space Command. Having Raymond’s perspective as the leader of both entities will be important for fleshing out the council’s charter and future requirements at the April 9 meeting, Barnes noted.
“The unified combatant commander is going to be looking much more toward, ‘What are my near-term needs that need to be satisfied?” Barnes said. “The chief of space operations is going to be thinking about, ‘How do I satisfy not just this combatant commander, but future combatant commanders over the next … 15 years?”
The missile warning/tracking report will be discussed at the April 9 meeting, along with the alternative acquisitions report, he added.
“We’ll run through … the key elements so that everybody is on the same sheet of music,” he said. The council will then make “resource-informed” recommendations for the fiscal year 2022 budget request and beyond, regarding how to develop that new architecture, in particular by looking at how the SDA plans to begin standing up a new proliferated sensor-based network in low-Earth orbit by 2022.
“We want to take a look at the sorts of work that particularly SDA is doing, to ensure that it will provide sufficient information that we can then say, ‘Okay, now I’m ready to go down path A or path B, or Path C, based on some of the demonstration work that [the SDA] team are going to be able to do in the ‘22 timeframe,” Barnes said.
When it comes to parsing the responsibilities of various agencies within the future space acquisition network, Barnes said that there are “good-faith efforts” among the entities to reach a consensus on individual roles. However, some kinks remain to be worked out, he acknowledged.
“It’s really important that we come to a common understanding, both within ourselves, … internal to the enterprise, but then clearly external to the enterprise as well,” Barnes said.