At a glance.
- NASA discusses supply chain risk management efforts.
- US Space Force considers ways of achieving resilience.
- When considering resilience, don't neglect the networks that connect space and ground systems.
- Addressing acquisition challenges in US military space programs.
- Why are we in space? To do better on the ground.
NASA discusses supply chain risk management efforts.
On Monday, GovExec held the first part of their two-day “Managing Government’s Risk at Scale” summit centered around the NASA SEWP (Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement) GWAC (Government-Wide Acquisition Contract), intended and described by NASA as providing “the latest in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and Audio-Visual (AV) products and services for all Federal Agencies and their approved contractors.” The Monday sessions saw the discussion of supply chain risk management (SCRM) approaches and criticisms. One major issue addressed in a panel discussion was the idea that agencies are waiting for updates, such as directives and memos, to policies surrounding the supply chain from other agencies. Deputy Chief of the Computer Security Division at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Jon Boyens, said that waiting around for a memo or directive has “just got to stop, this is risk management. This is an aspect of risk, and so there are very simple things that can be done, that should be done anyway.” The key to SCRM, however, as noted by NASA’s Program Manager, Kanitra Tyler, and agreed upon amongst the panelists, “is collaborating both internally and externally.”
NASA SEWP’s Program Manager, Joanne Woytek, also noted the difficulty faced by the agency in the implementation of a new Office of Management and Budget security directive expected to go into effect in September, citing issues with a lack of staff and resources. The OMB directive requires agencies to provide a standardized self-attestation form to security vendors in order to ensure compliance with appropriate NIST guidelines. “I don’t have a self-attestation staff,” Woytek said, emphasizing the underpreparedness and need for help from outside agencies in the policy’s impending implementation. “We’re either going to find some magic wand that makes it happen, or we’re going to have some discussions with [OMB] and figure out when this can happen.”
US Space Force considers ways of achieving resilience.
Space Force is looking into ways of achieving greater resilience in its operations. Since space can be assumed to be contested, the Service is looking into ways of rapidly restoring disrupted capabilities. Frank Calvelli, assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisitions and integration, said at GovConWire’s 2023 Space Acquisition Forum that prioritizing those capabilities was a first step toward achieving resilience. Calvelli defined "resilience" as falling into four bins: "proliferation, diversified orbits, integrating commercial capabilities and then the ability to reconstitute."
Breaking Defense quoted Calvelli as explaining, “It’s something that’s on our to-do list. I think the key thing that we need to work on is what mission area do we want the ability to reconstitute? You know, is it a communications mission area? Is it a missile warning/missile tracking mission area? Is it the space domain awareness area? Is it all the above? So we’re doing some work right now to try to figure out if we had to reconstitute stuff, what would be the priority mission areas that we would need and want to reconstitute? We haven’t gotten that far yet.”
Ability to reconstitute systems in orbit, as well as the ability to address emergent, crucial operational requirements, depend upon tactically responsive launch capabilities. U.S. Space Command intends to develop and test such capabilities. Lieutenant General John Shaw, SPACECOM's deputy commander told C4ISRNet that “When we look across our mission set and how we think we will need to be doing operations in the future, one hindrance to all that is that it takes a long time to put something on orbit. We want to be more responsive. We can’t wait years to respond.” Space Force intends a demonstration of a more responsive launch capability later this year. In the project, “Victus Nox," Space Force has engaged Millennium Space Systems to produce and deliver a satellite in eight months. Once that satellite is delivered, Firefly Aerospace will launch it on just twenty-four hours' notice.
The growth of the commercial space sector is one development that gives General Shaw and other leaders some reason for hope that tactically responsive launch will prove not only feasible, but affordable. “We have reusable launchers that are cheaper. We’re finding ways as a nation to make satellites faster and smaller,” he said to C4ISRNet. “All of these changes in our space industry are spiraling us toward a more responsive capability. We’ve just got to keep pushing.”
When considering resilience, don't neglect the networks that connect space and ground systems.
The Atlantic Council has a thoughtful set of pieces on dealing with evolving space threats. Many of the themes are familiar: orbital traffic management, avoidance of debris fields, the growing "democratization" of space and the attendant risk of invidious proliferation, and an immature international regulatory regime.
Not all the threats facing space systems are kinetic, however. Indeed, the most common class of threat is probably cyber threat. According to Air & Space Forces Magazine, Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman, one of the lessons of Russia's war against Ukraine is that space and cyber are inextricably intertwined. “Satellites in space are not useful if the linkages to them and the ground network that moves the information around that you get from satellites is not assured, is not capable, is not accessible,” Saltzman said. “I think it’s a reminder that...if we’re not thinking about cyber protection of our ground networks, that we may have a backdoor, if you will, to negate satellite operations without counter-satellite operations....There’s other ways to attack these systems.”
Addressing acquisition challenges in US military space programs.
Another challenge Assistant Secretary Calvelli addressed at the GovConWire 2023 Acquisition Forum was the curious lag between procurement of space systems and acquisition of the ground equipment necessary to operate them. Two of the more notorious cases of this acquisition gap, Breaking Defense writes, are the software-based Next-Generation Operational Control System (OCX) that supports new GPS III satellites, and the Military GPS User Equipment (MGUe), which includes receivers capable of handling the encrypted, jam-resistant M-Code signal. These two long-delayed systems will receive particular attention that emphasizes getting them into the users' hands.
In any case, the disconnect between ground and space system fielding is a gap Calvelli says he's determined to close. “It is the worst thing in the world to launch a spacecraft and not be able to use it, because you provided basically nothing at that point in time for the warfighter,” Breaking Defense quotes him as saying in remarks delivered on January 18th. “I oversee the ground programs as well as the space programs. And I’ve been making that a priority that the ground needs to be there before launch. That has driven folks to do some creative things, like more incremental development on the ground.”
Another acquisition challenge is the long-familiar one of a procurement system that's slow to deliver capabilities to the operators for whom they're ultimately intended. This has been, as people say, "a known issue" since the First World War at least, where conflicting procedures and equities among the requirements community, the resource sponsors, the RDT&E establishment, and the operators have often frustrated all the parties involved in bringing new systems to reality. It's not that any of the parties are wicked, venal, or incompetent, but they've been given different tasks. Consider that the US acquisition system emerged historically in a period when expensive programs delivered large end items with long lead-times, and when true dual-use items were unusual. The acquisition bureaucracy had, and still has both the bureaucratic virtues (accountability, predictability, due process, procedural equity) and the bureaucratic vices (slowness, resistance to change).
Acquisition reform is often framed in terms of increasing the speed with which capabilities the operators actually need can be delivered to them quickly and, where possible, affordably. That was the mood at the recent conference sponsored by the National Security Space Association. Air & Space Forces Magazine quoted Space Force Major General Gregory J. Gagnon in its headline: "Keep it simple, stupid." General Gagnon said. “Let’s just do small things, do them really fast, and continue to move forward. I think that’s absolutely the right way ahead.”
Why are we in space? To do better on the ground.
Both the youngest and the oldest US Services, Space Force and the mud service itself, the US Army, are in agreement on this. Supporting terrestrial military operations is Space Force's first priority, Space News reports. And if you ask the Army what it wants from space, it will tell you: it wants help keeping soldiers moving, shooting, and communicating.