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 President-elect Joe Biden assumes office in January.
The National Defense Authorization Act of 2020 mandates that the U.S. Space Force have its own SAE by Oct. 1, 2022. Air Force acquisition chief Will Roper has overseen space systems modernization in addition to air systems acquisition. The law also provided for an assistant secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition and Integration. Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition and Integration Shawn Barnes has been performing the duties of the office until a nominee is identified and confirmed by the Senate.
“I think the fact of the matter is that given where we are at this point in the [Trump] administration, it’s unlikely we would see a nominee for my position–the assistant secretary position,” Barnes told Access Intelligence’s Via Satellite Military SatCom Digital Week on Dec. 10. “My expectation–my planning horizon–is to do this job into the May timeframe. If the administration nominates, and the Senate confirms, someone earlier, there will be no one happier than me, and I can move into the deputy position by being the deputy and not being both the deputy and performing the duties of [the assistant secretary].”
Also on hold for the last seven months has been a final report on an Alternative Acquisition System for the U.S. Space Force report, mandated by last year’s NDAA. The report has been stuck in an “interagency” coordination netherworld, including with officials at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), but Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond said in October that the report was in “the final stages of coordination” (Defense Daily, Oct. 28). Revamping acquisition to ensure the rapid fielding of space systems is “maybe the harshest fight there is and one of the most important fights there is,” Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett said at the time. “You can’t build technology on a slow, lethargic acquisition system. We’ve got to move fast.”
She and others have pointed to the 2018 National Defense Strategy’s positing of China and Russia as the most significant threats to the U.S. as reasons for accelerating the acquisition of space and other systems.
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”–a recommendation that will likely meet with stiff opposition from members of Congress who want strong oversight of individual military space programs.
Congressional appropriators are “concerned about a potential lack of transparency, as we think about how to streamline,” Barnes said on Dec. 10. “I’m absolutely committed to ensuring that we provide that transparency to the Hill, to both the authorizers and the appropriators. I think that that is necessary to ensure that we’ve got credibility. All of these kinds of big muscle movements with the Hill don’t happen overnight. It’s a long game, and it is our responsibility to have the sort of detailed conversations with the Hill about how we believe we should move forward, but also to solicit their thoughts and their help because I think that we share the same goals.”
On Dec. 10, Barnes also noted the Space Force’s assumption of the U.S. Navy’s Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellite communications program.
“The Navy recently transferred responsibility for acquiring and operating narrow band, low-date rate SATCOM capabilities–the MUOS program–to the Department of the Air Force and the U.S. Space Force, and we look forward to working with industry to evaluate options and acquire the next generation systems,” Barnes said. “Digital engineering, automation, artificial intelligence, and Cloud technologies are just some of the technologies that we see as constructively disruptive and accelerate innovation in space.”
Last March, the Navy awarded Lockheed Martin [LMT] a $112.7 million cost-plus-award-fee, firm-fixed-price, Indefinite-Delivery/Indefinite-Quantity (IDIQ) contract for sustainment of the company’s five geosynchronous earth orbit MUOS satellites (Defense Daily, March 26). General Dynamics [GD] is the MUOS ground segment provider. The system supports four relay ground stations in western Australia, Sicily, Virginia and Hawaii.
The MUOS ground stations provide net-centric communications capabilities while supporting legacy terminals.
Barnes acknowledged that, while the re-alignment of commercial satellite communications (COMSATCOM) under Space Force is beneficial, significant challenges remain with satellite terminals that are under different military service and combatant command authorities.
“One of the things I’ve asked my team to focus on is that synchronization of the ground user equipment and the command and control aspects and the space systems themselves,” he said. “If you think of COMSATCOM and military SATCOM, it requires user equipment, command and control to those satellites and the satellites themselves. That synchronization has been a significant challenge. I think we owe it to the nation to spend a lot more time and energy working those synchronization issues to be able to get after that. Specifically, with SATCOM terminals, we’ve got to further the technology to allow those terminals to be more ubiquitous and less proprietary, to be able to move to different waveforms. That will absolutely free up our ability to rapidly advance with the satellite capabilities. We can’t have the long pole in the tent be the cost of new user equipment, and that’s one of the real challenges we have today.”