The Department of Defense (DOD), while making progress in its operationally responsive space (ORS) programs over the past two years, needs to take additional steps to ensure that ORS requirements of combatant commanders are met, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report to Congress.

“At this time, DOD lacks a plan that lays out how it will direct its investments to meet current operational needs while pursuing innovative approaches and new technologies” in the ORS area, the report to the House Armed Services Committee strategic forces subcommittee stated, though DOD has initiated some plans for ORS.

“Since GAO last reported on DOD’s ORS efforts in 2006, the department [has] taken several steps toward establishing a program management structure” in the ORS area, the report stated.

For example, the report outlined some plans DOD has devised. “On the programmatic side, DOD provided Congress with a plan that lays out an organizational structure and defines the responsibilities of the newly created Joint Office” for ORS, “and describes an approach for satisfying warfighters’ needs.”

Progress has included design, construction, launch and operation of a small satellite that could be launched quickly, the report noted.

That capability is required, since China used a ground-based interceptor missile to shoot down one of its own satellites. (Please see Space & Missile Defense Report, Monday, April 30, 2007.) Many members of Congress say the United States must be able to replace, quickly, any U.S. satellites that China might shoot down in a war.

The report noted that “DOD has launched one of its TacSat satellites — small experimental satellites intended to quickly provide a capability that meets an identified need within available resources — and has begun developing several others.

“It has also made progress in developing interface standards for satellite buses — the platform that provides power, altitude, temperature control, and other support to the satellite in space — and continued its sponsorship of efforts aimed at acquiring low cost launch vehicles.”

The GAO declined to endorse these advances, however, saying it is too soon to pass judgment. “Despite this progress, it is too early to determine the overall success of these efforts because most are still in their initial phases,” the report stated.

According to GAO, success in the ORS program won’t be easy.

“Achieving success in ORS will be challenging,” the report stated. “With relatively modest resources, the Joint ORS Office must quickly respond to the warfighter’s urgent needs, while continuing research and development efforts that are necessary to help reduce the cost and time of future space acquisitions.

“As it negotiates these priorities, the office will need to coordinate its efforts with a broad array of programs and agencies in the science and technology, acquisition, and operational communities. Historically, it has been difficult to transition programs from the science and technology environment to the acquisition and operational environment.” (Please see separate story in this issue on a quick-satellite replacement contract.)

The report titled “Space Acquisitions: DOD Is Making Progress to Rapidly Deliver Low Cost Space Capabilities, but Challenges Remain” may be read in entirety at on the Web, and clicking on report GAO 08-516.