The U.S. Department of Defense, which is conducting a congressionally mandated review of potential improvements to its space organization, plans to send a report on its findings to Capitol Hill next month, defense officials said May 19.

The report will examine whether DoD has “the correct alignments of authority, responsibility and accountability” to outpace growing threats in space, said John Hill, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, who testified before the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces panel.

A GPS III satellite sits inside a thermal vacuum chamber. Photo: Lockheed Martin.
A GPS III satellite sits inside a thermal vacuum chamber. Photo: Lockheed Martin.

“We don’t need a clean-slate approach, but certainly an overhaul is necessary to guarantee our freedoms in, through and from space,” added Air Force Lt. Gen. David Buck, commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Space at U.S. Strategic Command.

The fiscal year 2017 defense authorization act calls for DoD to provide recommendations by June 23 on how to strengthen its management of space activities.

Cristina Chaplain, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), told the Senate Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces panel May 17 that DoD’s space system acquisition is plagued by “fragmented leadership,” making it difficult to coordinate interdependent systems among disparate agencies. For example, satellites sometimes spend years on orbit before their ground systems are fully ready to support them.

“It’s an extremely complex situation where you need a clear line of authority to prioritize systems [and] lay out clear plans, and we don’t have that yet,” Chaplain testified. “As a result, you have pretty big gaps between the delivery of satellites and the delivery of ground. You essentially waste capability in space when you do that.”

Chaplain suggested that several major changes “may deserve a close look.” They include forming a military department or agency for space and combining Air Force and National Reconnaissance Office space acquisition functions into a space acquisition agency.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein told the Senate panel that while creating a separate space force might deserve consideration at some point, it would be a distraction from his service’s current efforts to adapt to an increasingly contested space domain.

“To get focused on a large organizational change would actually slow us down right now,” Goldfein testified.

Last year, the GAO found that about 60 organizations across the federal government have leadership responsibilities for national security space. Of those, eight manage space acquisition, 11 have oversight roles and six are involved in setting requirements for defense space programs. With so many players involved, it can take at least three years to develop an acquisition strategy, conduct a competition and award a contract, according to the GAO.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the House strategic forces panel, called DoD’s space organization a “tangled bureaucratic structure.”