The newly establish United States Space Force is expected to deliver a report outlining its acquisition plans to Congress by the end of the month, but in a series of hearings this week lawmakers got a first look at how Space Force leadership is approaching the problem.
One of the primary issues the Space Force faces in organizing its acquisitions is the relationship between the three main space acquisitions entities: the Space and Missile Systems Center, the Space Development Agency and the Space Rapid Capabilities Office. SMC is the largest of the three and has been responsible for most Air Force space acquisitions, while the other two organizations were established in the last two years to address specific capability gaps. Legislation passed by Congress called for creation of a position in fiscal year 2022 to oversee the three organizations, but it did little to clarify their roles or relationships, leading to some concerns of redundancy.
The Space Force seems set to follow that model. Space Force Vice Commander Lt. Gen. David Thompson reportedly stated that the three entities would be put under the jurisdiction of a new Space Systems Command, although they will continue to be three separate organizations.
When asked about this proposal at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing March 3, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein assured lawmakers the Space RCO would remain independent, as Congress intended.
“While there will be a lot of discussions about (administration) and bureaucracy, our job is to deliver capability and to deliver it fast—at the speed of relevance—because that’s exactly what the threat companies are doing,” said Goldfein. “Space RCO (...) needs to stay independent, and it needs to be able to move fast without a lot of lines and boxes that all get a chance to vote on what they’re doing.”
In a separate hearing before the House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Defense March 4, Thompson emphasized that leaders were already working to ensure the three organizations were on the same page.
“We have already begun the process even before the Space Force was established (...) of working between the SMC, the SDA, the Space RCO (…) and others to ensure that their acquisition processes are synchronized, complementary and not duplicative in many senses,” Thompson said.
Thompson also briefly outlined the expected roles of the three organizations. SMC will continue to develop and acquire those unique capabilities the military has depended on for decades, including protected communications, missile warning and GPS, he explained, while the Space RCO, which was established two years ago, will continue to rapidly develop and prototype new capabilities. Finally, the SDA’s focus will be on leveraging commercial technologies, especially when it comes to utilizing proliferated constellations in low earth orbit.
“Consolidating them under a specific acquisition organization will further integrate their activities and ensure they are not duplicative, but make sure they create one, single space architecture,” said Thompson. “Right now our focus is in driving an agile and rapid response for all of them as they continue to develop space capabilities for the mission.”
More details on the Space Force’s plans will be delivered in a report to Congress by the end of the month. Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond said he expects to see a draft of the Space Force’s acquisitions plan next week.
Nathan Strout was the staff editor at C4ISRNET, where he covered the intelligence community.