Back to news

May 25, 2020 | International, Aerospace

Space Force lays out acquisitions reforms in new report

In a new proposal, the U.S. Space Force is asking Congress to overhaul the tools it uses to acquire new space systems, allowing the new service to move with more agility and keep pace with near-peer adversaries.

“Our nation requires a bold Alternative Space Acquisition System that not only matches the pace of change but also manages unpredictability and regularly disrupts our adversaries' threat cadence," the Department of the U.S. Air Force report concludes. “The features outlined in this report will create a new space acquisition approach for the USSF that is the envy of all other services and ultimately enables the USSF to rapidly leverage industry innovation to outpace space threats.”

When Congress passed legislation establishing the Space Force as the nation's sixth branch of the armed services in December, it included a provision requiring the Secretary of the Air Force to provide a report by the end of March on whether the military should adopt an alternative space acquisition system. While the Pentagon did deliver a report to Congress in March, it largely kicked the can down the road on any specific acquisitions reforms. Space Force leadership have touted this more detailed acquisitions report as “groundbreaking” in recent appearances.

The new report, which was first reported by Bloomberg Government, includes nine specific proposals to improve Space Force contracting, although it doesn't make any suggestions towards unifying the various organizations involved in purchasing space platforms and systems, such as the Space Development Agency, the Space Rapid Capabilities Office, the Space and Missile Systems Center, or the National Reconnaissance Office, which purchases satellites for the intelligence community.

Instead, the report's recommendations include changes to the contracting tools and reporting requirements the Space Force will use to acquire new systems, with a focus on increasing flexibility and delegating authority. Three of the suggestions require legislative action, while the remaining proposals will simply require internal Department of Defense adjustments.

Perhaps the most important recommendation in the report, according to the Air Force, is the consolidation of budget line items along mission portfolios, such as missile warning or communications, instead of by platform. While this has been done on a limited basis in the past for the Space Rapid Capabilities Office and some classified efforts, it marks a change from standard DoD budgeting practices.

Theoretically, this would allow the Space Force to move funding between missile warning systems without having to submit reprogramming requests to Congress, something it did several times last year in order to move up the delivery date for the first Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared satellite. The Air Force's repeated reprogramming requests rankled some members of Congress, leading to a fight between lawmakers and the White House over the program's funding for fiscal 2020.

The Air Force claims this fix is needed to give program managers the flexibility to adapt to growing threats. According to the report, transparency at the program level would be preserved in future budget documents. This change would not require legislation.

Beyond that, the Air Force is asking Congress for permission to push milestone decision authority down the chain of command, similar to what's been demonstrated by the Missile Defense Agency and National Reconnaissance Office. This change would speed up decision making for space programs.

The third major change the Air Force is pursuing is authority for the Space Force to use incremental funding for space systems and programs. This “Efficient Space Procurement” coding was used to acquire the fifth and sixth satellites in the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites at the same time as well as the fifth and sixth Space-Based Infrared System satellites, resulting in significant savings. The department claims full funding each space vehicle has lead to affordability issues in the past, and can “lead to production breaks, obsolescence, and industrial base impacts.” Instead, the department wants to spread out funding for satellites over multiple years to help keep costs in check and avoid funding spikes.

Other changes include streamlining requirements validation and reporting requirements.

“Under these reforms, our Nation's newest military service will have unprecedented agility to build resilient, defendable, and affordable space capabilities through streamlined processes and closer partnerships with one of America's decisive advantages—its innovative and rapidly changing commercial space industry,” Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett wrote in the introduction to the report.

On the same subject

  • CISA Announces Malware Next-Gen Analysis | CISA

    April 10, 2024 | International, Land, Security

    CISA Announces Malware Next-Gen Analysis | CISA

  • Thales finalizes acquisition of RUAG training and simulation unit

    May 6, 2022 | International, C4ISR

    Thales finalizes acquisition of RUAG training and simulation unit

    The acquisition aligns with armed forces modernization programs across the globe, and a move toward digitalization across land forces.

  • For the Navy’s hospital ships, networking is yet another challenge

    April 22, 2020 | International, Naval, C4ISR

    For the Navy’s hospital ships, networking is yet another challenge

    Andrew Eversden When the Navy hospital ship Comfort deployed to Haiti in 2010 following devastating earthquakes, media organizations broadcasting in the area ate up so much satellite bandwidth that the ship had to revert to paper processes and adjust its satellite communications for some ship-to-shore messaging. While the outages weren't a widespread issue, said Sean Kelley, who served as the ship's top IT officer at the time, the problem highlighted a challenge these ships face: broadband. Now, the hospital ships Mercy and Comfort are deployed to Los Angeles and New York, respectively, and are in the national spotlight as symbols of the coronavirus pandemic relief effort. But security and IT experts say the ships' mission presents the Navy with distinct networking problems, from cybersecurity to network connection for patients. Onboard devices When disaster strikes, the Navy's hospital ships deploy in a matter of days, mobilizing with a crew of about 100-1,200 personnel. But the influx of staff also leads to an incursion of devices, all of which must be secure and require bandwidth. “You have a lot of different people going to a lot of different places that now have to be acclimated to this environment,” said Kelley, now executive vice president at Unissant, an IT and cybersecurity company. “So that's really one of the biggest challenges, is getting all those things turned on, all those things activated, making sure that they are all compliant with the latest patches and fixes, and making sure they're good.” This process can be a “nightmare,” said retired Rear Adm. Danelle Barrett, former deputy chief information officer of the Navy and cybersecurity division director. “The challenging part is always in the first couple days whenever this happens,” said Barrett, who oversaw communications and cyberspace for Operation Unified Response, the U.S. military's mission in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. “The team is coalescing about how they want to operate, and they're getting their feet wet, getting new accounts on networks ... [getting] their logins.” Cybersecurity aboard the ships is also complex. Both ships have 1,000 beds, 12 operating rooms, blood banks, labs, medical devices and a multitude of other “internet of things” devices connected to hospital beds. According to a 2018 survey by health care IoT security company Zingbox, each bed can have as many as 10-15 IoT devices. “They have to be cyber-ready, or the mission of the Mercy is considered [degraded],” said Dean Hullings, global defense solutions strategist at Forescout, which handles Comply to Connect — a Defense Department framework created to ensure the cybersecurity of new devices — for the USNS Mercy. Ensuring connectivity For the devices to function, they need connectivity. When the ships arrived in ports in late March, technology firm CenturyLink “donated” connectivity to the Mercy, while Verizon provided connectivity to the Comfort. Former and current Navy officials told C4ISRNET that adequate broadband is the most challenging IT consideration faced by these ships. “Obviously you're going to be transferring imagery of X-rays or things like that that are more dense and require a ... higher data rate, so that bandwidth in port is important,” Barrett said. And with the introduction of patients, bandwidth needs become more complex. “The greatest communications challenge we are going to face during this deployment is the increased need for patients to communicate off the ship during their stay,” Tom Van Leunen, a spokesman for Military Sealift Command, told C4ISRNET. “Our hospital ships are designed to support official communication for the ship's crew and embarked medical community to complete their job. Adding a capability for patients to reach loved ones increases the risk of saturating the bandwidth off the ship.” Aboard both ships, the Navy doubled the bandwidth, he said, adding that Navy personnel also set up separate networks for patients' communications. While this solves one networking problem, it can also create an increased cybersecurity risk. Securing the ships Cybersecurity on the hospital ships follows the same standard practices as the rest of the Navy fleet. Since those aboard are largely Navy medical staff and personnel, they know what activities are acceptable on the network, Barrett said. “You can't just go and plug anything into that network because of potential vulnerabilities that that system may bring that could affect not just the ship, but remember, the ship is then connected to the rest of the [Department of Defense Information Network],” Barrett said. “So risk by one is shared by all.” ForeScout's Hullings said a hospital environment “epitomizes” why the Comply to Connect program is necessary. The ship has desktops, servers, routers, printers and other networks equipment, as well as mobile devices, such as tablets, that health care providers use to track patient care. “The truly unique stuff is the mission systems of the hospital, like X-ray machines, MRI machines, the beds themselves in the post-operative recovery rooms, that are all sensors. And they are all passing data. They have to be protected,” Hullings said. A spokesperson for the Navy told C4ISRNET that the ships are prepared for the cybersecurity challenges associated with their missions, but declined to address what additional cybersecurity challenges are introduced with the addition of private citizens. “These ships have routinely deployed in humanitarian assistance missions such as Pacific Partnership (USNS Mercy) and Continuing Promise (USNS Comfort) that required them to operate in partner nation ports, with foreign national patients being brought to and from the ship,” said Cmdr. Dave Benham, a spokesman for the Navy's 10th Fleet. “In all operating locations, we take appropriate precautions to keep our networks secure, and we do not discuss specific measures in order to protect operational security.” Cybersecurity on the hospital ships follow the same protocols as any other Military Sealift Command ship, said Benham. “Protecting our networks is a continuous challenge, and the overarching concern is to ensure that the right information gets to the right place at the right time with the right level of protection,” he explained. Cybersecurity aboard the hospital ships follow similar efforts to those recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Wash your hands. “It's ‘wash your hands' with your computer, too,” Barrett said. “Do good hygiene with your computer.”

All news