SDA a ‘model’ that could shake up all space acquisition: Calvelli

Date: September 20, 2022 | Outlet: Breaking Defense | By: Theresa Hitchens

AFA 2022 — The Space Development Agency’s rapid development-to-acquisition cycle could serve as a “model” for the rest of the Space Force acquisition community, the service’s acquisition executive said today — signaling the potential for a major shake-up in the Pentagon’s traditional approach that has seen new space systems take years, if not decades, to come to fruition.

“I am genuinely excited about their approach to doing business,” Frank Calvelli told the Air Force Association (AFA) conference in Maryland. Calvelli, who took up his post as the first-ever assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration on May 5.

“They are building small, they are doing things on two-year [cycles], and they are delivering capabilities faster. And I actually think that’s a model that we can take advantage of and actually push across the organization, across the other PEOs [program executive offices] and something we can learn from,” he explained.

Therefore, Calvelli said, when SDA is integrated into the Space Force “in a couple of weeks,” there will be no “dramatic organizational changes” for the agency nor any changes to its current acquisition authorities — which in general allow SDA Director Derek Tournear to use non-traditional contracting solutions to speed capabilities to the field via a spiral development approach.

Instead, Calvelli held up the SDA’s acquisition approach as an example to be emulated by other acquisition program offices under Space Systems Command (SSC), the service’s major acquisition command based in Los Angeles, to speed up satellite development and acquisition. Business as usual, where development of a new satellites takes years if not decades, simply isn’t good enough, he suggested. He specifically pointed to the multi-billion dollar Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (Next-Gen OPIR) missile warning satellite program’s long gestation period.

Next-Gen OPIR, being designed to replace the current  Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellites, comprises three separate development efforts: a set of three satellites in Geosynchronous Orbit (called Next-Gen GEO), some 36,000 kilometers in altitude, being built by Lockheed Martin; two satellites in an elliptical orbit over the Earth’s poles, being built by Northrop Grumman; and a ground system called Future Operationally Resilient Ground Evolution (FORGE), spearheaded by Raytheon Technologies.

“[L]ook at Next-Gen GEO — that should not be that hard,” Calvelli said. “Forgive me for saying that, but I mean, it’s a seven-year development for a class of spacecraft for missile warning that we’ve been building as a nation for … 30, 40 years, right?”

There are three ways that the Space Force can speed up the acquisition process, he said.

“The first is building smaller,” Calvelli said. “Building smaller spacecraft can be done faster. It’s just a matter of physics. So, going small with space and going smaller, in more manageable bite-sized chunks of ground, are key enablers to speed.

“A second key enabler to speed is reducing non-recurring engineering, using existing technology and existing designs,” he added.

And lastly, Calvelli said, is that the Space Force has to be able to actually execute its plans and keep to schedules.

“One of the things as I prepped for my hearings this past spring that I noticed was that there’s a track record of being late on programs,” he said. “We have to turn that track record around and actually execute.”

Outside the Space Force, Calvelli urged industry to both be realistic about capabilities during the bidding process, so that vendors can actually follow through on program goals.

“My message to industry, I would say, is please bid on programs with realistic cost and realistic schedules,” he said. “And please bid on programs [where] you can be successful. Then, when you win that contract, execute — deliver those programs on cost … on schedule.”