Changing the Culture of Satellite Acquisition

The evidence just keeps coming that the DoD is changing how it looks at meeting its communications needs in space. The latest sign is described in an excellent piece in Defense Daily published on November 29th titled “Simple Satellites with Commercial Utility Could be Onset for DoD Acquisition Change, Air Force General Says.” The story talks about starting with simple satellite sensors and building up to bigger procurements in partnership with industry.

Major General Martin Whelan, Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) Director of Requirements, says a change in culture is necessary. However, it won’t happen overnight.

“We’re learning how to do that, but it will be on a case-by-case basis until we get enough victories and until industry is fully developed in that mission area,” Whelan said. “But, as I said, satellite communications might be an area that would be ripe for looking for the next victory.”

That acknowledgement is very encouraging. The Defense Daily piece also quotes IGC President Kay Sears talking about how a culture change will free up industry to truly partner with the DoD in space. Kay wrote in October about how the FCSA process was another step in the evolving government view on procurement.

Kay references how WGS provides the U.S. government with much needed SATCOM capacity, which is supplemented by commercial satellites to help keep up with ever-increasing ISR bandwidth needs. Commercial has played this supporting role since the first Gulf War. She also praises leaders like Space and Missile Center (SMC) chief Lt. General Ellen Pawlikowski and AFSPC chief General William Shelton for having strong visions of where we need to go in space.

“It’s getting that down to the rank and file, again down at the major and colonel level, the program level, where that vision is created,” Sears said. “There has to be some change in the culture, and, to me, that is what has to be driven down by some of the leaders.”

Change is never easy. But it certainly helps to have a catalyst like the current budgetary climate. That’s what will continue to drive this culture change. In the process, it will forge a stronger partnership in space that delivers for the warfighter and the taxpayer.