Recent Demonstrations Show Value in Aligning Policy and Funding with Commercial Integration
As the legislative branch with the “power of the purse,” it is Congress’ constitutional duty to shape policy and provide funding for the Space Force to accomplish its mission. Space, however, is an emerging domain that requires the Department of Defense’s (DOD) newest service to streamline requirements and acquisition at the speed of need. To do this effectively, policy and funding set forth by Congress can leverage the innovative strengths of the private sector by integrating commercial technology upfront in DOD requirements.
“This is a uniquely innovative ecosystem where the United States derives an asymmetric advantage by leveraging the commercial capabilities and innovation coming out of the private sector for national security missions,” said Sarah Mineiro, senior partner at Elara Nova: The Space Consultancy. “So the question from a policy standpoint, but also from a funding perspective is: ‘How do we make sure those capabilities are presented to the Joint Warfighter in this newfound strategic competition?’”
Momentum in National Security Space Acquisition
Two recent achievements illustrate the strengths of leveraging commercial technology in national security space acquisition: the Victus Nox responsive launch mission and the Tranche 0 launches of the Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture (PWSA). These demonstrations prove that acquisition cycles can not only be accelerated, but transformed.
“Responsive launch is a great demonstration of what can happen when you align policy, program funding and commercial incentives,” said Mineiro, who previously served as the staff lead for the Strategic Forces Subcommittee for the House Armed Service Committee (HASC). “This alignment made sure industry understood all of the major components needed to present commercial capabilities to the military in an operationally relevant timeline.”
In the Victus Nox mission, preparations for the tactically responsive launch were completed in just 58 hours, a process that typically takes weeks to months. Firefly Aerospace then launched its national security payload, a Millennium Space Systems satellite, just 27-hours after receiving launch orders. The satellite for space domain awareness purposes became operational just 37-hours after its launch, thus exhibiting a rapid-response capability far faster than the previous record of 21 days, set back in 2021.
“Victus Nox had policy authority, sustainable funding profiles and capability produced by industry – that’s a great thing,” said Mineiro, who as a senior legislative adviser was the primary drafter and negotiator of the Space Force and Space Command legislation. “That’s exactly what we should continue to see in the future, hopefully for the betterment not only of launch, but also the rest of the components needed for successful space systems in the future.”
A second example of successful alignment is the Space Development Agency’s (SDA) Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture (PWSA). With its two initial launches of its Tranche 0 Tracking and Data Transport satellites, SDA brought capability to bear “from order to orbit” in less than 30 months. By fielding its missile warning architecture in “tranches” every two years, the Space Force ensures it has the latest commercial technology available for the missile warning mission.
“The SDA has been tremendously successful in disrupting acquisition,” Mineiro said, who served in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (OSDP) and the Office of the Under Secretary of the Air Force for International Affairs (SAF/IA). “The SDA has coupled traditional and well-known acquisition methodologies, with a drive for shorter program timelines and consistent interaction with commercial partners. As the Space Force continues to look at acquisition reform, the SDA’s model shows the potential of using flexible acquisition authorities that DOD already has to achieve the mission faster with the help of commercial industry.”
Each of these initiatives exhibit what the Honorable Frank Calvelli, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition and Integration, sought to establish when he released the nine space acquisition tenets to reform the procurement process.
“The nine tenants are great and some of them, quite frankly, have proven examples in both responsive launch and PWSA,” Mineiro said. “We will see in the next couple of budget cycles how successful the Hon. Calvelli will be in proliferating that process throughout the acquisition system.”
Space Acquisition as the Backbone for JADC2
The Space Force must balance developing capabilities quickly for an increasingly strategic warfighting domain, while at the same time creating new and innovative procurement processes, despite being a service that is still less than four years old. The importance of the Space Force scaling capability at speed cannot be understated, particularly as the DOD seeks to establish its initiative of Joint All Domain Command and Control, or JADC2.
“Space should be the backbone of JADC2,” Mineiro said. “The flow of data is enabled by space-based platforms, whether it’s for intelligence, command and control or communications, so the Space Force should be the service that has an outsized voice in architecting the distribution and security of that data.”
A foundational requirement for JADC2 is establishing the ground-based capability for the processing and distribution of space-based data. This requirement is reflected in what Mineiro states is one of the more significant of Calvelli’s nine tenets: Deliver Ground Before Launch.
“All of our space systems literally have yottabytess of data that come down to Earth from these space-based platforms to support policy-makers, acquisition professionals and operators that are on terra firma,” Mineiro said. “Ground and software have been perennially challenged programs in the Space Force. The entry points, the networks and the terminals that are associated with ground will be the foundation for Joint All Domain Command and Control – JADC2.”
Space networks and their transmission of data enables other services to more effectively accomplish their respective missions, a core premise of JADC2. As an example, Mineiro points to a particular strength the U.S. Army leverages from space-based data.
“The Army does a tremendous job of taking space-derived data and distributing it to the soldiers that need it,” Mineiro said. “But it’s enabled by an architectural concept that should be driven by the operational imperatives of the Air Force and the Space Force. I look forward to the Space Force working with the other services to develop JADC2 and bringing that capability to our Sailors, Soldiers, Marines, Guardians and Airmen.”
Funding Research and Development in Commercial Technology
Before national security space capabilities can be acquired, funding must support the research, development, testing and evaluation of emerging technologies for the space-based mission.
“Research and development is literally the lifeblood of the operational imperatives that the Space Force has not just to compete, but to win the strategic competition of the future,” Mineiro said. “The Space Force was established because people understood the asymmetric advantages that we derive from space, and quite frankly, our strategic competitors also understand that, too. That is why they target those capabilities as much as they do.”
Russia and China have made significant investments in emerging technologies for space-based capabilities, in some ways far and beyond what the United States is investing. This emphasizes the strategic significance of matching and overcoming the pacing threats through research and development.
“Investment in RDT&E is an investment not just in our future, but in our current state,” Mineiro said. “We cannot afford to not be innovating constantly or leveraging instruments of national power in the strategic competition. We cannot be extending baseline technology into the future. For the United States, leveraging American exceptionalism, ingenuity and innovation is what’s going to help us secure our freedoms in the future.”
Research and development in space-based capability, however, starts with funding from Congress. Therefore, Congress’ policy and funding must be aligned in recognizing the importance of commercial technology integration in DOD requirements. The recent demonstrations of responsive launch and PWSA show the potential of this approach, which requires Congress, Space Force and industry to be aligned in the national security space mission.
“There are members on both sides of the aisle who want to see the Space Force succeed and want to see our nation positioned to win the strategic competition,” Mineiro said. “All of that is predicated on trust between legislators, military personnel and industry leaders. We need to look at innovation not only from the technological perspective, but also at investing in research and development and in bringing new operational concepts forward.”
Elara Nova is a global consultancy and professional services firm focused on helping businesses and government agencies maximize the strategic advantages of the space domain. Learn more at https://elaranova.com/.