America’s newest military service, armed with a $17.4 billion budget, must develop and acquire new offensive and defensive space technology to combat Chinese, Russian, and other foes’ orbital assets — yet the Space Force’s top buying position remains vacant.
Space Force was stood up in December 2019, but the National Defense Authorization Act that created the service mandated that its acquisitions chief would not have full authority until Oct. 1, 2022. Lawmakers and Space and Air Force leaders now say the position needs to be filled and immediately be given full authority with adversaries pulling away with capabilities to destroy American satellites. The Space Force, in turn, is trying to show even with the vacancy, it has a new vision for development and acquisition, successfully designing and launching a satellite in just 11 months on Sunday.
“I continue to be disappointed with the slow implementation of the acquisition changes for the Space Force,” House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mike Rogers of Alabama said Wednesday while also criticizing President Joe Biden’s flat defense budget, which he said was shortchanged by over $4 billion.
“These cuts and divestments greatly increase near-term risk by exacerbating gaps in capabilities,” he said. “We’re gambling that China or some other adversary will force us into conflict before 2030.”
To be sure, Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond warned again that China and Russia possess capabilities that can destroy American satellites and the development of protective measures is urgent.
The assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration is a vital piece in that formula, said acting Air Force Secretary John Roth.
“I concur with everybody’s concerns that the position has not been filled,” Roth told the committee. “That’s an important position, and we really do need to fill it.”
Civilian acquisitions expert Shawn Barnes has been performing the duties of the position since December 2019.
Rogers demanded someone should be nominated who would “not screw it up.” He and other lawmakers of both parties, however, approved the NDAA that required the post not have full authorities.
The chambers’ Armed Services committees could undo the requirement in the next version of the Pentagon policy bill, clearing the way for a nomination sooner.
Roth acknowledged the urgency but noted Biden’s Air Force secretary has only recently been nominated and has yet to receive Senate confirmation. The president must still nominate an acquisitions chief and then await Senate approval.
Nonetheless, Space Force is showing it will move out with the development of vital space capabilities and the reorganization of its acquisition structure.
On Sunday, Space Force launched a satellite into low-Earth orbit that had been designed and developed in a record 11 months, beating the fastest previous length of two years.
The Tactically Responsive Launch-2 mission took a satellite to 40,000 feet below a Northrop Grumman Stargazer aircraft, then released an air-launched Pegasus XL rocket that took the payload into orbit.
The satellite was developed within four months of contract award and launched 21 days after completion.
“We have to shift to a new architecture, we have to modernize our forces,” Raymond said. “The capabilities that we have in space today are exquisite, they are the best, they are expensive, but they are not defendable.”
He added: “We have to shift to a more diversified architecture that has resiliency built into it, not bolted on as an afterthought.”
Asked by Rhode Island Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin how Space Force will protect satellites from directed energy weapons like those China is known to have, Raymond deferred to closed session but also emphasized the importance of development at speed.
“The force design work that we’re doing takes that into account,” he said. “It balances our ability to accomplish the mission, the ability to protect and defend that mission, the cost, and how fast you can get those capabilities on orbit.”
But to do so, Rogers said in a statement Thursday to the Washington Examiner, the force needs a Senate-confirmed buying boss.
“The longer this administration takes to fill this position is just more time given to our adversaries to overtake our lead in Space,” he said. “We have to organize our space forces to be agile and take advantage of technological advances. I don’t have patience for delays because of bureaucratic wrangling.”
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Original Author: Abraham Mahshie
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