Frank Calvelli, the Biden administration’s nominee as the first assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration, told the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) on Feb. 17 that he hopes to speed the fielding of needed systems through ensuring programs meet cost and schedule constraints and through building smaller satellites.
At the start of his nomination hearing, Calvelli said he aims to undertake a number of steps to speed the fielding of needed space systems, including “ensuring requirements and analysis are coordinated and completed well ahead of capability need;” early risk reduction and research and development; using the “right acquisition and the right contract types and contract incentives” for speed of fielding and contract execution; ensuring industry proposals are realistic in cost and schedule estimates; “acquiring smaller systems for space;” more open architecture ground systems; developing ground software in smaller increments; and integrating space and ground system elements.
“In addition, speed in acquisitions can be helped by using existing technology, in some cases; limiting contract changes and keeping requirements stable; empowering our program managers and holding them accountable for program success; holding industry accountable for results; driving an organizational focus on meeting schedule, cost and technical performance commitments across the organization; and creating a culture of successful program execution while driving a sense of urgency,” he said. “Based upon my experience with these approaches, speed can be added back to our space acquisitions, and capability can be delivered to the warfighters quicker.”
DoD leaders have been pushing to increase the resilience of space systems, in part by moving away from the acquisition of a limited number of large, costly systems–“big, fat, juicy targets” in the words of retired Vice Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. John Hyten. On Feb. 17, Calvelli said that boosting space resilience would be a priority.
“From my experience, resiliency in space can be added by taking advantage of diverse orbits; adding new technical capabilities; using a mix of traditional satellites and smaller, more proliferated satellites; robust space situational awareness; the ability for rapid reconstitution; and taking advantage integrating commercial capabilities,” Calvelli said. “Resiliency also includes making sure that our ground systems don’t have single point failures and that they are secure from cyber attacks.”
In response to questioning from Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) on the anti-satellite (ASAT) capabilities of China and Russia, Calvelli said that a cyber attack against a U.S. satellite is more likely than an ASAT weapon because of the difficulty the U.S. could face in tracing a cyber attack against a satellite and attributing it to an adversary nation.
Rounds asked Calvelli whether a potential U.S. adversary would initially try to disable U.S. satellites by firing an ASAT from the ground or whether that adversary would instead fire from a “stockpile” of ASAT weapons in space.
“I think that’s a possibility, but I will tell you that I would imagine anything that’s the first volley in terms of a space war would end up being the cyber,” he said. “It’s a lot less attribution than a missile being launched from somebody’s country.”
During the Feb. 17 hearing, Calvelli testified that he is prepared to revise or cancel space acquisition programs, if needed.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said that DoD “is littered with a lot of expensive programs that have gone wrong” and asked Calvelli whether he is “willing to take a sharp eye in looking at all of the [space] programs we have and, if necessary, to end programs that aren’t performing and are not delivering value for the taxpayer and the capabilities that our troopers need on the ground and in the air.”
“I am a firm believer on delivering programs on cost, on schedule, meeting our requirements, and if there’s programs that are awry or are not heading in the right direction, I have no problem either taking corrective action or terminating them,” Calvelli replied.
Calvelli served as principal deputy director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) from 2012 to 2020 and last year joined the national security program at Booz Allen Hamilton [BAH] where he worked as an executive on space and intelligence issues (Defense Daily, Dec. 17, 2021).