ORLANDO, Fla. – The prospect of the Space Development Agency (SDA) – one of the key pillars of President Trump’s administration’s effort to improve space acquisition at the Pentagon – could be on shaky ground.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson still has some concerns about how a new SDA would serve a different function from the current methods of technology acquisition in the space domain, she told reporters Feb. 28.
“I have some concerns about what is the mission of this entity, why do we think it would be better than what we currently do, and what exactly will be focused on,” she said at a media roundtable at the Air Force Association’s annual Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida.
She noted that the SDA has not yet been established via signed memorandum. It will also not be included in the forthcoming Space Force proposal that is due to be submitted to Congress along with the fiscal year 2020 Presidential Budget request, as it was laid out as separate effort that would be stood up independently by the Defense Department.
The planning and direction of the SDA was placed under the purview of the Pentagon’s Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin in January. But questions remain as to how the SDA would differ in functions from the Air Force’s current Space and Missile Systems Center (AFSMC) at Los Angeles Air Force Base – whether they would both exist separately, or the SDA would eventually absorb AFSMC – especially now that Trump has directed the Space Force to be led by the Air Force (Defense Daily, Feb. 19).
Wilson said that while there has been no public discussion on the process, “conceptually” the SDA would likely be stood up individually but then “rolled into” the Space Force, and only stand as a new agency for “probably less than a year.”
In December 2018, Space News reported that Griffin had tapped Fred Kennedy, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), to lead a study that would develop recommendations for the implementation of the SDA. More recently, Griffin selected Kennedy to lead the agency in a memo to Shanahan, Space News first reported Feb. 24.
Under an Aug. 9 2018 report written by then-Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, the Space Development Agency would be responsible for fielding technologies such as persistent global surveillance for advanced missile targeting, alternate position, navigation and timing (PNT) for a GPS-denied environment, missile defense, and global and near-real time space situational awareness, among other efforts (Defense Daily, Aug. 9, 2018)
DARPA is already in charge of programs covering those areas and others that could potentially be placed under a new SDA. Wilson said the Air Force is “quite satisfied” with DARPA’s work on those programs.
“It starts to raise questions of why do we want to set up something that’s similar to DARPA for only a few months or years” to then roll into the Space Force under the Air Force, she said.