The U.S. government must look at adopting commercial sector manufacturing practices to quickly build and field a more proliferated network of sensors in space, Mike Griffin, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said Dec. 3.

Speaking at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s event “Launch: the Space Economy” Tuesday in Washington, D.C., Griffin said the national security community has “an overwhelming need” to modernize its development, manufacturing and deployment practices for future space assets, and encouraged government partners to examine how commercial companies are presently working to launch constellations of small satellites into low-Earth orbit. Lessons learned will inform how agencies such as the Space Development Agency (SDA) would build out a proposed space-based sensor network, he noted.

“We in the national security community and the government community writ large have much to learn – in fact, nearly everything to learn – from the commercial sector which is … standing itself up today to deploy similar constellations,” Griffin said. SDA leaders have previously expressed a goal to stand up six space-based sensor layers and one ground layer to form a notional space warfighting architecture within the next five years (Defense Daily, Sept. 20).

Griffin emphasized that he does not see the Defense Department going out and buying off-the-shelf commercial assets to build these new sensor layers. “I don’t believe there is a commercial sector need for a tracking layer, nor necessarily a … need for communications in theater and so on,” he said. But he added that he is supportive of the multiple commercial actors fighting to be the first to field new constellations of small satellites to enable global connectivity, imagery, and other capabilities.

“I hope many do” succeed, he added. “We need competitors. I think that DoD [the Defense Department] needs to be prepared to engage commercial sector contractors in … building to our requirements – the things we need – but by the methods that the commercial sector can bring in that DoD has yet to learn.”

Griffin compared his ideal model to the way the U.S. military procures automotive capabilities. “When we need a new fleet of automobiles… we don’t set out to design our own automobiles; we set out to take automobiles produced by the automotive manufacturing sector in the United States,” he said. “In most cases, we modify those a little bit for needs, but we ask the commercial sector to produce them for us.”

That method – using best commercial practices and modifying as needed – will allow the SDA and the Defense Department overall to produce the new space architecture with the resilience and redundancy needed, in a timely manner, he noted.