Tag Archives: US Air Force

New “Space Force” Needs Acquisition Law Changes From Congress



Some 16,000 active duty and civilian personnel being “re-assigned” to the Space Force, and eventually will be officially re-commissioned as “spacemen” or whatever moniker is chosen — something that Thompson told the annual Air Force Association meeting here yesterday will happen soon.

Those processes are not simple, he said, and will require new legal authorities.


“The Air Force is poised to begin reorganization of how it will transform space acquisition at the end of March and that will require legal changes only Congress can make, says Space Force Vice Commander Lt. Gen. David Thompson.

The report to lawmakers will make “recommendations for what a new acquisition approach should look like,” he told reporters here in Orlando late yesterday. “As you know, Congress gave us established in law the Space Acquisition Council. That already has formed its set of initial recommendations about how that body is going to function, and a whole series of recommendations to approve primarily the acquisition approach for the Space Force.”

The new council, along with the creation of a new assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration, was mandated by the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. That person will oversee SMC, the Space Rapid Capabilities Office (SpRCO), and the nascent Space Development Agency (SDA). In October 2022, whoever holds that position will also become the Air Force service acquisition executive for space systems and programs.

As Breaking D readers know, one idea rolling around the Pentagon is to lump SMC, SDA and SpRCO together under a new Space Force entity called Space Systems Command. However, there is internal disagreement on whether all the organizations must be moved and a reluctance to change anything hastily, given that DoD has two years to decide what it wants to do regarding space acquisition and perhaps even convince Congress to change its mind. In particular, there is some question as to whether SDA’s acquisition authority will move from Undersecretary for Research & Engineering Mike Griffin to the new space acquisition secretary.

Thompson suggested that the recommendations would go beyond simply laying out the role of the new secretary.

“The good news is, we’ve been given such a tremendous opportunity that we don’t have to stop there,” he said. For example, “we’re looking at the requirements approach.”

Further, he said, it will include requests to Congress to give the Air Force the “authority to create that 21st century, rapid, clean, agile acquisition force.”

But, he cautioned, while there will be a number of “very specific recommendations,” the report will not include “the full and total and complete bounds of the last dotted i and crossed t of every specific aspect.”

In another of the monthly reports on Space Force due to Congress, the Air Force will explain its “total force management approach” for figuring out how many, and by what process, airmen will be shifted to the Space Force.”

USAF Pushes Public-Private Partnerships With Enterprise IT-As-A-Service Contracts



The Air Force has extended its Enterprise IT-as-a-Service initiative with a third contract designed to shift enterprise IT services to commercial companies.

Other branches are interested as well. The Army announced in February it will move in that direction. The U.S. Marine Corps is figuring out where the model “makes sense“.


“The Air Force has extended its Enterprise IT-as-a-Service initiative with a third contract designed to shift enterprise IT services to commercial companies, this time with Accenture Federal Services.

The new contract will require Accenture to provide enterprise IT services to eight Air Force bases. The initiative known as EITaaS is designed to contract out basic IT infrastructure and services to commercial vendors to free up service members for cyber-focused missions. The Air Force has pushed the idea as a way to improve public-private partnerships and streamline its cyber efforts.

The new contract is a “Computer and Store” agreement. Accenture will provide edge cloud computing and artificial intelligence initiative support, according to a news release.

The eight Air Force bases include Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado, Maxwell AFB in Alabama, Offutt AFB in Nebraska, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska, Cannon AFB in New Mexico and Hurlburt Field in Florida.

This agreement comes as the Air Force said it completed an overseas expansion of the Cloud Hosted Enterprise Service program, which hosts email and other enterprise tools through Microsoft’s Office 365 environment, the release said.

The Air Force has been expanding EITaaS to new bases during the past few months. In February, a $76.3 million contract gave up to 20 basesthe opportunity to shift end-user services to the EITaaS model.

Other branches are interested in EITaaS as well. The Army announced in February it will move in that direction. The U.S. Marine Corps is interested, but still figuring out where the model “makes sense,” FedScoop previously reported.”

The Secretive Team Shaping The Air Force’s New Bomber


Northrop Grumman Super Bowl Ad - LRS-B Concept

Northrop Grumman Super Bowl Ad – LRS-B Concept


“This is the first time the military has built a bomber since the 1980s.

About 80 people on a secretive U.S. Air Force team are overseeing the service’s most sensitive aircraft project in decades. Senior officials say they will keep the stealth aircraft program on track.  The prime contractor will be announced soon.

The bomber team works inside the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office, a unit that specializes in “delivering eye-watering capabilities,” William LaPlante, the service’s acquisition chief, told reporters Wednesday at the Pentagon.

The team is made up of experienced officers working the project’s requirements, maintainers who have worked on these types of planes, and acquisition professionals.

“It’s got our best people there,” LaPlante said. “They love their jobs.”

This is the first time the military has built a bomber since the 1980s, when the stealthy B-2 Spirit was built in secret to preserve its ability to penetrate Soviet air defenses. The current effort, dubbed the Long Range Strike-Bomber or LRS-B, has been wrapped in nearly as much secrecy, and to the same general end: giving American forces a long-term edge.

In an attempt to keep the program from spiraling into the kinds of cost and schedule overruns that severely truncated the B-2 program, the new bomber will be built using mature or existing technologies, Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, the Air Force’s military deputy for acquisition, said Wednesday. But that doesn’t mean the plane won’t have a big edge on the battlefield.

“Just because they’re existing and mature doesn’t mean that they’re in the open,” LaPlante said. “It doesn’t mean that any of you even know about them.”

Created in 2003, the Rapid Capabilities Office is built for speed — specifically, for producing battle-ready arms in a fraction of the time it takes the Pentagon’s regular acquisition process. Its mission is to “rapidly develop new capabilities to counter the increasing pace of threat evolution,” according to a 2008 briefing given by Randall Walden, who now runs the RCO.

Specializing in prototyping and unafraid to use commercial equipment, the RCO is a “streamlined acquisition shop that does some of our most sensitive and important work,” LaPlante said.

Among that work is the X-37B, a space drone that the Air Force barely acknowledges exists, and won’t say what it’s been doing on its several orbital missions. The elite group also built a special beacon that aims red and green lights at planes that fly into the restricted airspace around Washington. And it developed and fielded — in just nine months — a surface-to-air missile system to shoot down a hijacked aircraft aimed at government buildings in the area.

But they work on other stuff too, classified projects that are not discussed. And the projects are not “one-off things,” LaPlante said. “I’m talking about things that go into production.”

The RCO operates outside of the Defense Department bureaucracy, reporting directly to LaPlante, Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, and Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff. Almost every week the group talks with senior Pentagon leaders, such as the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The group “was chosen for a deliberate reason,” LaPlante said.

The Air Force is imminently expected to announce which contractor will build the program’s 100 aircraft: Northrop Grumman or a team of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Some cost estimates will be released with the contract award, Air Force officials said, but the program’s overall cost will remain classified.”


She Kills People From 7,850 Miles Away – What We Tolerate as Warfare Today




“Anne, [“SPARKLE”] an Air Force staff sergeant, was—and still is—a remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) sensor operator or “sensor.”

“When you hit a truck full of people, there are limbs and legs everywhere,” Sparkle said. “I watched a guy crawl away from the wreckage after one shot with no lower body. He slowly died. You have to watch that. You don’t get to turn away.”

Anne crawled out of bed in her North Las Vegas house around 10 p.m. and started to get ready for her shift.

She pulled her chestnut hair into a bun and slipped on her olive green flight suit. In the kitchen, she packed fruit to snack on during her shift and stuffed her schoolwork into her backpack-sized lunchbox just in case it’s a boring night. Most nights she doesn’t have a chance to open a book.

Giving her dog, a tan Sher-Pei/pit bull mix, one last pat, she left her house and joined thousands of other workers leaving for the midnight shift. While most people were heading to hotels and casinos in town, Hubbard was on her way to Creech Air Force Base and a war.

At Creech, she is assigned to a reconnaissance squadron flying missions over Iraq and Afghanistan. Few weapons in the American arsenal are more relentless than the RPA fleet, often called drones. For more than a decade, the United States has flown RPAs over Afghanistan and Iraq, providing forces on the ground with an eye in the sky to spot terrorists and insurgents, and in most cases the firepower to destroy them.

As she rode to work, Anne—or “Sparkle” as she’s known to her fellow drone operators—wasn’t focused on the desert outside her window. It was 2009 and President Obama was sending troops in a surge to Afghanistan. Sparkle’s mind was on a desert 7,000 miles away. Over the next 24 hours she would track an insurgent, watch as he was killed by a Hellfire missile, and spy on his funeral before ending her night with a breakfast beer and a trip to the dog park.

The RPA has become the symbol of America’s ongoing wars, from Afghanistan to Somalia to Syria. And, 14 years after a U.S. “drone” first fired a missile at an al Qaeda operative, the morality and legality of remote strikes remains a matter of intense controversy. Earlier this year, the U.S. government revealed it accidentallykilled one of its own citizens with a drone—a hostage held by al Qaeda—triggering another round of debate about when the U.S. is justified in using the remotely piloted planes to attack.

On Thursday, the Intercept published a cache of new documents about RPA missions in Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen. The documents paint a damning picture of the RPA, including an internal U.S. military study that found a “critical shortfall” in how targets are identified. The government’s reliance on cellphones has led to the wrong target being killed. The new documents also call into question the accuracy of the RPA. The Intercept reports more than 200 people were killed – only 35 were actual targets – in Afghanistan between January 2012 and February 2013.

“This outrageous explosion of watchlisting—of monitoring people and racking and stacking them on lists, assigning them numbers…  assigning them death sentences without notice, on a worldwide battlefield—it was, from the very first instance, wrong,” the source of the documents told the Intercept. “We’re allowing this to happen. And by ‘we,’ I mean every American citizen who has access to this information now, but continues to do nothing about it.”

But for all the attention paid to RPAs, the men and women who operate the 21st century’s most divisive weapons system remain largely hidden from public view—except for reports about strikes, especially when a missile kills civilians.

A pilot's heads up display in a ground control station shows a truck from the view of a camera on an MQ-9 Reaper during a training mission. The Reaper is the Air Force's first A pilot’s heads up display in a ground control station shows a truck from the view of a camera on an MQ-9 Reaper during a training mission. The Reaper is the Air Force’s first “hunter-killer” unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and is designed to engage time-sensitive targets on the battlefield as well as provide intelligence and surveillance. The jet-fighter sized Reapers are 36 feet long with 66-foot wingspans and can fly for as long as 14 hours fully loaded with laser-guided bombs and air-to-ground missiles. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)”


Air Force Awards $3.2 Billion UAV Contract on Last Day of Fiscal Year


Global Hawk NGC


“The Air Force awarded the contract on 30 Sept. 2015, the last day of federal fiscal year 2015 — a time when many large contracts are let to clear up financial details at the end of the fiscal year.

Unmanned aircraft experts at Northrop Grumman Corp. will handle upgrades, technology insertion, and maintenance of the U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned surveillance aircraft over the next decade.

Officials of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., are asking the Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems segment in San Diego to handle configuration management, data management, technical refresh, and component-obsolescence issues for all Air Force variants of the Global Hawk.

Northrop Grumman is the original equipment manufacturer of the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which the Air Force uses for long-endurance and high-altitude surveillance missions throughout the world.

Global Hawk was designed by Ryan Aeronautical, which Northrop Grumman acquired in 1999. The UAV has a role similar to the U-2 high-altitude surveillance aircraft.

The RQ-4 UAV provides broad-area surveillance using high-resolution synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and long-range infrared sensors. The aircraft can remain aloft for days and can survey as much as 40,000 square miles a day.

A Navy version of the Global Hawk called the MQ-4C Triton Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) UAV assists the Navy’s Boeing P-8 surveillance jet with anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and maritime patrol duties.

Contractor logistics support, although an expensive line item in the Pentagon budget, often makes sense in the modern era of complex military technology-especially as military personnel are taking a hit from U.S. Department of Defense budget cuts.”


U.S. ISIL Campaign Tops $3 Billion



Photo Credit: Air Force


“A year into the conflict, U.S. military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria have cost the Defense Department more than $3.2 billion, according to the Pentagon.

Christopher Harmer, a defense analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, described the air campaign as “tactically spectacular” but having limited “strategic impact” because the group still controls major areas and population centers, maintains the ability to launch offensive operations, and is able to communicate with and recruit foreign fighters and sympathizers.

The bulk of the cost has been borne by the Air Force, which is leading the bombing campaign against the militants. The service has spent more than $2.1 billion on the air war, including munitions and mission support functions. The Navy, which has been launching strike and reconnaissance platforms from aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, has spent about $500 million. The war effort has cost the Army and U.S. Special Operations Command approximately $350 million and $250 million, respectively.

The U.S. began bombing Islamic State targets in Iraq in August 2014, and the effort expanded to Syria the following month. U.S. Central Command has launched more than 5,000 airstrikes against the militants and destroyed more than 7,000 enemy targets, including tanks, Humvees, buildings, oil infrastructure, staging areas and fighting positions, U.S. officials said. In addition, approximately 3,500 American troops are in Iraq performing a train, advise and assist mission.

Although anti-Islamic State forces on the ground — backed by U.S. airpower — have pushed the jihadists out of places like the Iraqi city of Tikrit and the Syrian town of Kobane, the group continues to hold key terrain and remains a potent adversary, U.S. officials and defense experts have noted.

Some observers have criticized the restrictions that President Barack Obama has placed on the U.S. military effort, including prohibiting special operators from joining the front lines to call in airstrikes in support of friendly forces.

“It’s very difficult for a pilot flying at 30,000 feet to accurately target those guys, especially when they are so intermingled with the civilians,” Harmer said.

When it comes to allied forces on the ground, U.S. officials have expressed disappointment with the pace of training of anti-Islamic State Syrian rebels. The Iraqi security forces’ competence and willingness to fight have also been called into question.

The Obama administration’s stated goal is to degrade and ultimately defeat the Islamic State. But Harmer questioned whether the coalition could achieve that end with the current policies in place.

“If nothing else changes fundamentally, what we’ve got set up right now is a stalemate fight. … We’re throwing enough airpower at it to make it difficult for ISIS to expand [but] we’re not throwing enough airpower at it to make it impossible for ISIS to expand. And we’re not throwing anywhere near enough assets at it to destroy ISIS,” he said.

For fiscal year 2016, the Obama administration requested $5.3 billion in overseas contingency operations funds for the counter-Islamic State campaign, including $1.3 billion to train and equip the Iraqi security forces, Kurdish peshmerga and “moderate” Syrian rebels that are fighting to regain territory from the militants.

U.S. officials expect the fight to last several years or more.

“This is a long-term campaign,” Obama said at a Pentagon press conference in July.”


Former UK Defense Chief Slams F-35 as ‘White Elephant’




“Nick Harvey, who served as armed forces minister from 2010 to 2012, recently said of the fifth-generation stealth fighter jet, “You could argue it was already one of the biggest white elephants in history a long time ago,” according to an article by The Independent, a national newspaper based in London.

He added there was “not a cat in hell’s chance” the Joint Strike Fighter would be combat-ready by 2018, the article states.

The Joint Strike Fighter is the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program, estimated to cost about $400 billion to purchase 2,457 aircraft for the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy.

U.S. allies are expected to buy hundreds more. Britain, for example, wants nearly 140 of the planes — the largest planned international F-35 order. Some 130 of the aircraft have been built so far, including three for the U.K. The F-35 is designed to replace such aircraft as the F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter, A-10 Warthog attack plane, F/A-18 Hornet fighter and AV-8B Harrier jump jet, a variant of which is flown by the British air force.

Behind schedule and over budget from original projections, the acquisition effort has struggled to develop technologies, from the engine and tires to the helmet-mounted display and weaponry. Complicating matters, the hardware and software must be built for three versions of the aircraft, the F-35A, F-35B and F-35C.

Officials have said the program is making progress in reducing cost overruns and developmental challenges. Yet even U.S. Air Force Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, head of Air Combat Command, recently acknowledged the F-35A will only offer limited close air support when it begins operational flights next year because it will initially lack the large area, high-definition synthetic aperture radar known as “BIG SAR” and a pinpoint glide bomb known as the Small Diameter Bomb II, or SDB-II. “Those are systems that are going to be coming onto the airplane in later blocks,” he said.

The Marine Corps’ F-35B jump-set variant is scheduled to enter so-called initial operational capability, or IOC, later this year, followed by the Air Force’s F-35A conventional version in the latter half of 2016, followed by the Navy’s F-35C aircraft carrier variant in 2019. (The Marines, however, will reach the milestone in part by relying on software that doesn’t integrate a full suite of weapons.)

The Defense Department plans spend $11 billion to buy 57 F-35s in the next fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1, up from $8.6 billion to purchase 38 of the aircraft in the current year. U.S. lawmakers this week will debate legislation to authorize an additional $1 billion to buy six more F-35Bs than the Pentagon requested.

he additional aircraft were listed on a Marine Corps list of priorities that didn’t receive funding in the Pentagon’s spending plan for next year, according to a fact-sheet on the legislation from Rep. William “Mac” Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.”


The Air Force Wants You To Build Their Next Drone Engine


Ny Times Graphics

The Pentagon Hopes that Their Next UAV Engine is in Someone’s Garage. Image: NY Times Graphics


“The Air Force on Tuesday announced a $2 million prize for the U.S. citizen who can design the best new engine. It’s the largest prize ever from a military service, according to Air Force Lt. Col. Aaron Tucker.

The announcement presents a novel workaround to the traditional acquisition process, a focus point for Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. “If we can align air force and commercial markets, this is how we bend the cost curve,” said Tucker.

But it also suggests that the Air Force is looking to develop a new UAV, distinct from—but not dissimilar to—the one that defined how drones are used in war. ” Here’s what the Air Force is looking for. “A successful 100-horsepower turboshaft engine [that] must operate on Jet A fuel, demonstrate a brake-specific fuel consumption less than or equal to than 0.55 pounds of fuel per horsepower per hour, and generate at least 2.0 horsepower per pound,” Tucker told drone designers Tuesday at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference in Atlanta, Georgia. The overall goal: create a power plant with the fuel efficiency of a piston engine and the low weight of a turbine engine.

A 100-horsepower engine may sound like a small deal, and in a way it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s insignificant. It’s about the same output as the 115-hp engine that drives the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator drone.

Tucker told his audience that there’s currently no destination platform for the engine. Instead, it’s an attempt to spur innovation in the weight and horsepower class occupied by the Predator, the most significant unmanned military platform that the world has ever seen. “What we’re seeing is a lot of activity down here [for small UAVs], a lot of systems that are in production up here [for large drones like the MQ-9 Reaper and Global Hawk], and this seems to be a place where we can stand to get some technology investment.”

The Predator first flew in 1994 as a spy drone. It wasn’t until 2004, when the Air Force armed it with Hellfire missiles during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, that Predator became synonymous with the U.S. drone war and all the policy problems that have flowed from it. Long since surpassed in sophistication and capability—the MQ-1 has a range of 460 miles and endurance of 24 hours—it has nonetheless racked up more than two million hours of flight time.

The Pentagon began phasing out the Predator years ago in favor of the MQ-9 Reaper, which sports a 950-horsepower engine, a far larger payload, better electronics, and twice the speed and operating ceiling. But if the Predator has lost popularity in Washington, it’s gaining fans in militaries around the world. The Italian Air Force flies an unarmed reconnaissance version. Even the Chinese have built their own more-capable knock-off, the Cai Hong, or CS 4; it has a 2,100-mile range, almost fivefold the Predator’s.

And even if the Pentagon is retiring the MQ-1, the need for drones of its size isn’t going away. “We’re not expecting too much change in the mission,” Tucker said. “We see there’s a need for increasing the fuel efficiency for that size-class engine.”

If the Air Force Prize succeeds, it could lead to UAVs that resemble the Predator but that can fly farther, carry more weapons, act like a tiny Global Hawk, or some combination of all of the above.”


Military Space Community Needs Commercial Innovation But Cannot Decide How to Get It




“The military space community is mired in debate about how to modernize satellites and the broader space infrastructure at a time of unprecedented innovation by the private sector.

Discussions revolve around pivotal questions such as whether the Pentagon should take a leap of faith and outsource space services, and whether it should abandon expensive satellites programs in favor of lower cost alternatives.

We’re talking about fundamental change in the way we think about and acquire space capabilities,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Roger W. Teague, director of space programs at the office of the assistant secretary for acquisitions.

There is a definite desire in the Pentagon and the Air Force — which oversees most military space programs — to harvest emerging innovation in the commercial industry, Teague told executives at a recent meeting of the Washington Space Business Roundtable.

Privately funded technology is making inroads in some segments of the business, notably the satellite launch market, but the Pentagon remains undecided on how it should work with the private sector in areas like satellite communications, navigation, surveillance and weather monitoring.

The Air Force’s space hub in Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, is sponsoring a growing number of government-industry partnerships as a result of efforts by Lt. Gen. John W. Raymond, commander of the 14th Air Force. Teague commended Raymond for standing up a commercial space operations center that “for the first time allows us to explore how to do business more efficiently.”

The commercial ops center has given the Air Force a glimpse into the world of space-based services provided by the private sector, a much different environment than the traditional “stove piped mission systems,” Teague said.

The government is still conflicted about privatizing space activities, however, and continues to study the pros and cons. The Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles has piqued the ears of industry executives when it announced it would consider turning over the operation of the military’s Wideband Global Satcom constellation to a commercial firm. That could be an attractive proposition for an Air Force that is overstretched and lacks sufficient manpower to manage its vast space apparatus.

While privatization in theory might make sense, it is not an easy transition for a military that has been raised to build its own satellite constellations and to not have to worry about how much they cost.

In this new world of shrinking budgets, increasing threats and flowing private investments, “What’s the business model?” Teague asked. “For so long, we never thought about or operated that way. Now we are thinking differently. There’s about to be a new dialogue.”

The Pentagon’s budget request for fiscal year 2016 includes $7 billion for Air Force space programs, of which $5.4 billion will be spent on modernization efforts. Leaders are being cautious about where to make investments and worry about repeating the missteps of the 1990s, when key satellite programs were fraught with setbacks from which it took decades to recover.

Buying space services from the private sector could be the answer, but there are still too many unsettled questions about how to meld new approaches with the Pentagon’s rigid procurement system. “Who says we can’t have a commercial model?” Teague asked. “We’ve never done this before. … We have to start having these conversations.”

Labor-intensive operations like running the Air Force satellite control network might be an area that is ripe for a different business model, he said. The network supports the operation, control and maintenance of many government satellites. “That could be bought as a service,” Teague said.

Geostationary weather satellite services is another area that is now the subject of much debate as U.S. Central Command faces a significant gap in coverage over the Indian Ocean after the European satellite Meteosat-7 is decommissioned next year. Lawmakers have grilled Air Force leaders over the issue.

“There’s a conversation in the department and on the Hill on how we are going to backfill that capability,” Teague said.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Defense Department had initially concluded it could forgo launching the last of its weather satellites to save money. But circumstances changed in the wake of the European satellite decision, as well as new pressures from the weather and geospatial intelligence communities. James then opted to request that Congress restore funding for a new satellite launch.

Commercial services also could be considered for future weather systems, Teague said. Other areas that could be targets for privatization include command and control of satellite ground systems, even if concerns about security would weigh more heavily. “What are the most important elements of the government capability we ought to preserve?” Teague asked.

Defense leaders understand the private sector’s growing impatience with the glacial pace of government decisions in this area, so he asked executives to hang in there. “This is going to take us a bit,” he said. “We are going to look before we leap. The government moves slower. But there are real opportunities.”

The space industry has grown especially frustrated by the Pentagon’s protracted studies that have held up procurement decisions.

In the words of one space executive, the general mood in the industry is one of ennui. For decades the “government has been saying they need to do things more like commercial industry,” he told National Defense. “There was a big push for commercial technology in the ‘80s to buy faster, better, cheaper. Then came commercialization, hosted payloads, commercial architecture options, and on and on.” Military space leaders have good ideas and intentions but the institutional inertia is hard to overcome.

A number of comprehensive “analysis of alternatives” studies were launched in recent years to consider less costly and more innovative ways to provide satellite communications, weather monitoring and missile warning. Some of the options include disaggregating — breaking up large satellites into smaller spacecraft or payloads — and greater reliance on commercial systems. “Decisions on the way forward, including satellite architectures, have not yet been made,” said procurement analyst Cristina Chaplain, of the Government Accountability Office.

She noted that the Defense Department has completed one AOA for the weather monitoring mission area and is working to finish others for protected satellite communications and overhead persistent infrared sensing. “These AOAs have the potential to dramatically shift DoD’s approach to providing capabilities, affecting not only satellite design, but also ground systems, networks, user equipment, and the industrial base,” Chaplain wrote in a report requested by the Senate Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on strategic forces.

“DoD is faced with making decisions over the next several years about the way forward,” she noted. The satellite communications and overhead sensing studies are not scheduled for completion for several months, and decision making based on those studies could drag for years. “The longer DoD takes to complete the AOAs and come to a consensus on how to proceed, the more its range of choices will be constrained. … If decisions are not timely, DoD may be forced to continue with legacy systems” and would risk being stuck with obsolete technology, Chaplain observed. Defense Department culture has “generally been resistant to changes in acquisition approaches, and fragmented responsibilities in DoD space programs have made it difficult to implement new processes.”

The military for decades has procured commercial satellite communications services to augment military capacity but now the Defense Department is looking for ways to better manage procurements of these services. To its credit, Chaplain said, the Pentagon is pursuing new avenues for innovation and competition. “This is not easy to do in light of the importance of space programs to military operations, external pressures and the complicated nature of the national security space enterprise.”

Teague recognized that the studies have taken far longer than expected, but that there is still a “sense of urgency in senior leadership to get those AOAs wrapped up and set priorities for the 2017 budget.”

The findings of the AOAs will eventually have to be cleared though senior Pentagon and White House leaders, Teague said. “These are critical survival-of-the-nation systems we’re dealing with,” he said. “We have to make sure the architectures have a whole-of-government viewpoint.”
Yes, the process is taking way too long, he said. “The department is doing its homework. These are not seat of the pants decisions. You’re trying to balance capability, resiliency and affordability. We have to have all three.”

Launch services has emerged as a bright spot in the military’s quest for commercial innovation. “The launch industry has fundamentally changed over the last decade,” said Gen. John E. Hyten, head of Air Force Space Command. “The Air Force no longer owns the rockets that we fly. We purchase access to space as a service. Industry is now investing large amounts of private capital in developing new engines and rockets. And we’re collaborating closely with them to determine how best to invest in public-private partnerships and U.S.-made rocket propulsion systems. This is a difficult business.”

Just 10 years ago, said Hyten, “I was very concerned that we would even have a launch industry in this country, because the launch industry was about to collapse. There was no real private funding going into it,” he said. “When I look at the industry today and I see the health of SpaceX and Blue Origin and ULA and Orbital ATK, it’s just a much healthier industry today than it was. We just have to figure out an effective way to do business with that industry to make sure that we have assured access to space.”

Air Force General Fired for A-10 ‘Treason’ Comments


Maj. Gen. James N. Post III Aug 2013

Major General James N. Post


“The U.S. Air Force general who warned subordinates that praising the A-10 aircraft to lawmakers amounts to “treason” has been fired, the service said.

Maj. Gen. James Post has been removed from his position as the second-highest ranking officer at Air Combat Command, according to a statement released Friday by the command, which is based at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.

The decision was made by Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, head of the command, after he reviewed an Air Force Inspector General report that concluded Post’s comments had a “chilling effect” on officers and “caused them to feel constrained from communicating with members of Congress,” the release states.

The IG hotline received an anonymous complaint that referenced a Jan. 16 story on DoDBuzz detailing the matter, according to the report, which was posted on the Air Force’s Freedom of Information Act website. The article was included as an exhibit in the document.

Carlisle issued a letter of reprimand to Post, who remains in the service. “General Post understands the impact of his actions and has expressed his sincere regret to me, a regret he extends to all Airmen,” Carlisle said in the release.

A spokesperson at the command wouldn’t say whether Post will seek to retire from the service.

Post made the controversial remarks while addressing a group of more than 300 airmen at a weapons and tactics review board Jan. 10 at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. He was quoted as saying, “If anyone accuses me of saying this, I will deny it … anyone who is passing information to Congress about A-10 capabilities is committing treason.”

The news was reported by multiple outlets, including the The Arizona Daily Independent and the military blog John Q. Public.

Reaction to Post’s words was swift and critical. Lawmakers who support keeping the A-10 in the service called for an investigation and watchdog groups slammed the major general for trying to stifle dissent on an important issue — whether to retire the Cold War-era plane.

The service has proposed retiring its fleet of almost 300 of the low, slow-flying gunship over a period of five years, due in part to federal spending caps that apply to the defense budget. The divestment is estimated to save $4 billion.

The Air Force initially sought to clarify Post’s remarks. In an e-mail to Military​.com, spokeswoman Maj. Genieve David said, “The intent of his comments were to communicate the Air Force’s position and decision on recommended actions and strategic choices faced for the current constrained fiscal environment.”

But the IG report determined that Post’s “choice of words had the effect of attempting to prevent some members from lawfully communicating with Congress,” which is a violation of the U.S. code and Defense Department directives, whether that was his intention or not, according to the press release.

For his part, Post apologized for the remarks.

“The objective of my comment was simply meant to focus the attention of the audience on working within the command’s constraints,” he said in a statement included in the release. “It was sincerely never my intention to discourage anyone’s access to their elected officials. I now understand how my poor choice of words may have led a few attendees to draw this conclusion and I offer my humble apology for causing any undue strain on the command and its mission.”

Post also said he understands and respects Gen. Carlisle’s decision.”