Reforms In Air Force Space Acquisition Showing Results

By | November 6, 2006 | Feature, Government, Telecom

The "back-to-basics" reforms adopted by the U.S. Air Force within the past year to overhaul how it develops satellite systems are starting to show positive results, the service’s program executive officer (PEO) for space said.

However, just as the issues that have plagued the space acquisition community took years to manifest, so too will the reforms take time to become the institutional norm, Lt. Gen. Michael Hamel, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), said at an event attended by sister publication Defense Daily. "We think over the course of that year we have seen a lot of progress," Hamel, who is dual-hatted as the Air Force’s space PEO, told reporters at a Defense Writers Group breakfast Oct. 31 in Washington, D.C. However, he said "one of the things that we think is really important is that … this becomes something that is the normal course."

Undersecretary of the Air Force Ronald Sega instituted the "back-to-basics" changes to reverse a series of setbacks that the service has been experiencing since the early 1990s in the development of its sophisticated next-generation satellite systems. The challenges have resulted in billions of dollars of cost overruns and major schedule slips.

By refocusing on sound programmatic and engineering principles, and pursuing a deliberate and iterative process — a "recipe" that Hamel says was lost in the 1990s — the reforms are meant to lessen the chances that a satellite program will face major technical issues in the latter stages of its development and production which could lead to the same setbacks. "We are putting a lot more rigor into the engineering and program management, and likewise really trying to revitalize the workforce and to really develop a much closer partnership with industry," said Hamel, who has led SMC since May 2005.

Tangible results are evident in the progress of date, with the Lockheed Martin-built Space Based Infrared Systems (SBIRS)-High early-warning satellite, Hamel said. This is significant because SBIRS-High has often been characterized as a prime example of the poor choices made by both government and industry in the 1990s. "Through a lot of hard work, we think we have the right program formula here in terms of engineering discipline and tests for the system," said Hamel. "We are making great progress in delivering sensor systems. [We have] completed a couple of recent milestones in terms of testing of the first operational flight article for the geostationary orbit [GEO-1] satellite sensor as well as initial testing of the satellite bus."

The GEO-1 remains on track for launch in late 2008, Hamel said.

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