WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force’s purchasing process could be faster, its capabilities more resilient and its integration across other domains of warfare made better, according to service acquisition executive Frank Calvelli.
In May, the Senate confirmed Calvelli as the Department of the Air Force’s first-ever service acquisition executive focused solely on space. As he looks ahead to 2023, Calvelli’s top priorities include making those planned improvements a reality.
He recently answered questions from C4ISRNET about upcoming milestones for the Space Force, acquisition challenges, and how the service can take advantage of innovative, commercial technology. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
What Space Force acquisition milestones do you hope to achieve in 2023?
Moving into the next year, we are focused on executing and delivering on our acquisition commitments to the joint force. We look forward to the start of National Security Space Launch Phase 3 acquisition and the start of the Space Development Agency Tranche 2 acquisition.
We also anticipate delivery of the long-awaited Advanced Tracking and Launch Analysis System and GPS’ Next Generation Operational Control System capabilities into operations.
What are your top programmatic priorities for 2023? Which programs are you most closely watching, and why?
Our top three priorities for space acquisition include driving speed into our acquisitions in order to deliver new capabilities faster to outpace our adversaries and maintain the technological advantage we get from space; making our space architecture more resilient so that it can be counted on during times of crisis and conflict; and integrating our space architecture with other warfighting domains and across the Department of the Air Force’s operational imperatives to give our warfighters a strategic edge.
I’m really excited for the Space Development Agency to field Tranche 0 and start proving out their concepts. It’s going to add resiliency to the space architecture.
You recently released a series of nine acquisition tenets to guide the space acquisition workforce as they look to field systems more quickly. Which of those tenets are most important?
All nine tenets are vital to our success, and I expect payoff to begin immediately. The traditional ways of space acquisition must be reformed to add speed and meet our priorities. There is no better way to get speed into acquisitions than to deliver programs that meet performance requirements, on schedule and on cost.
Success is measured by executing on plan. This is our most important tenet.
What are the biggest challenges you foresee for space acquisition in 2023?
Threats to space systems are evolving quickly, so we must have timely space capability delivery to give our troops an advantage. The tenets are a message to the space acquisition workforce, as well as to industry, that we are going to build smaller — both for ground and space systems — deliver faster, and execute. Former approaches of developing a small amount of large satellites, along with large monolithic ground systems that took many years to develop on cost-plus contracts, can no longer be the norm.
To gain speed, we must shorten development timelines by building smaller satellites; acquiring ground and software-intensive systems in smaller, more manageable pieces that can be delivered faster; using existing technology and designs to reduce nonrecurring engineering to enable speed; taking advantage of commercial systems and capabilities; and, most importantly, delivering programs on cost and on schedule through solid program management discipline and execution.
What major acquisition reforms or new approaches do you hope to implement in the coming year?
There are no new authorities or methodologies that will help us go faster; Congress has been great in giving us what we need. We must ensure we use all the available tools and not accept poor-performing contracts.
I will continue to emphasize the recently published nine space acquisition tenets, including executing contracts on schedule and on cost while meeting performance so that we can deliver capabilities as threats to space systems continue to evolve.
The Space Development Agency has scheduled Tranche 0 satellites to launch in December 2022 and March 2023. How significant are these launches? What lessons might the Space Force acquisition community glean from the work SDA is doing?
SDA’s Tranche 0 is very important. The proliferated low-Earth orbit constellation is going to add resiliency to the space architecture and quickly add new capabilities.
SDA is speeding up delivery, and they are doing it by acquiring smaller satellites and minimizing new development by using existing technology. They are providing a model for how the space acquisition workforce must approach acquisition strategies.
Space Force officials have talked about the need to field more resilient capabilities by 2026 to counter near-term threats. What are your priorities as you think about that threat environment? What progress do you expect to make next year toward boosting resiliency?
Space architecture resiliency is one of my three top priorities; it’s critical that our systems can be counted on during times of crisis and conflict. We gain resiliency by fielding new capabilities, having orbital diversity and using proliferated systems where possible. We accelerate resiliency by adding speed to acquisitions, which we achieve by using existing technologies, building smaller satellites, acquiring space and ground system in more manageable pieces, taking advantage of commercial systems and capabilities, and executing.
How can the Space Force better partner with commercial companies? What are the biggest barriers to that, and what are you doing to address them?
By integrating commercial capabilities, we diversify the space architecture, which improves its resiliency. The commercial sector is at the forefront of new technologies; we need to leverage this technology rather than trying to duplicate efforts of recreating it.
Also, by acquiring smaller satellites, we lower the barriers for smaller companies to bid. To effectively implement this, though, the space acquisition workforce must understand and be aware of available technologies and individual companies’ capabilities.
Finally, industry must provide us realistic proposals and execute on their commitments.
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.