The Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee is holding a hearing this afternoon on “space system acquisitions and the industrial base”. One of the witnesses scheduled to testify, Josh Hartman, the Senior Advisor to the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, gave a preview of his planned testimony yesterday in a speech at the Responsive Space 7 conference in Los Angeles. His assessment should not be that surprising: “The current execution of major systems acquisition is going better than it was, but it requires continued improvement to serve the nation. Bluntly, though, I would suggest to you that in large part the system is still broken.”
He noted that, over the last several decades, there has been a trend towards bigger, more complex, and more expensive systems designed for a “one size fits all” approach. “The systems that we purchase have only become more complex and more unaffordable,” he said. “That model is a Cold War relic.” Today, though, changing needs means that one size doesn’t fit all. Different users have different data requirements, he noted, constellations that consist of just a few large, expensive spacecraft are particularly vulnerable.
“The solution is to change our business model,” he said, moving to multiple systems (not all of which necessarily are space-based) tailored to meet specific needs. This doesn’t mean large spacecraft won’t go away, but layered on to that would be smaller systems that can better meet certain needs better than large spacecraft. Such an approach would have a number of benefits, ranging from increasing the rate at which new technology is implemented in space systems to avoid disruptions in the space workforce by the long gaps between development of large systems.
This approach would seem to be highly compatible with Operationally Responsive Space (ORS), the central topic of this discussion at this conference, although Hartman cautioned that the ORS Office needs to deliver on that potential in the near future, such as with the upcoming launch of TacSat-3. “If you’re in the ORS Office, you need to show results.”