Partners in Space

Feb. 1, 1999

F. Whitten Peters Acting SECAF

In the early 1970s, Gen. Carl A. Spaatz, first Air Force Chief of Staff, sent a note to an airpower symposium that he was unable to attend. The message read: “Tell everybody that we are getting out of flying too soon and into space too late.”

That sentiment is as apropos today as it was then, in the view of acting Secretary of the Air Force F. Whitten Peters.

At an Air Force Association National Symposium held last Nov. 13 in Los Angeles, Peters said that today the Air Force is getting out of flying too soon because it has aging aircraft it cannot afford to repair or replace. At the same time, it is getting into space too late because it lacks the resources needed to maintain readiness and to modernize forces at the same time.

In essence, warned Peters, there is not enough money in the budget to allow a graceful transition to a true aerospace force.

“We have essentially little to no flexibility in how we spend the Air Force budget, particularly when we try to find room for expensive, yet essential, new initiatives like space systems,” said Peters.

There are just too many demands on the money. Military pay needs boosting, infrastructure needs refurbishing, and readiness needs to be improved. Even when the Air Force makes hard budget cuts, Congress may well just stick the program back in, Peters said.

Such Congressional blowback can even occur in the area of space itself. The USAF official noted one: “Under legislation, the Air Force budget continues to subsidize the costs of commercial launches from our ranges.”

With such fiscal constraints in mind, the Air Force has moved out on several efforts to find the best targets for investment in basic space-related technology, so that it can be prepared to move forward on space systems at some point in the future.

“Do-Able Space”-a study produced by Air Force Chief Scientist Daniel E. Hastings-and a follow-on report by the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board have helped identify key technology drivers that must be funded if the space effort is to move forward. Guided by this and other efforts, the Air Force Research Laboratory has changed its space plan and moved to double the amount it will spend on space research over the next few years.

“Partnering” is a key concept that has emerged from the Do-Able Space effort, said Peters. Air Force Research Laboratory, NASA, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and other government entities have long coordinated their efforts to get the most bang for their research buck, but the challenge now is to expand the links between classified and unclassified space programs and between the military, civil, and private sectors.

Coordination between classified “black” and unclassified “white” efforts is exemplified by the Discoverer II radar satellite demonstrator, said Peters.

Discoverer II is a partnership between the Air Force, the National Reconnaissance Office, and DARPA, one that aims to demonstrate mobile target tracking from space by 2004. If all goes as planned, USAF will learn valuable lessons for an initiative known as F2T2E (find, fix, track, target, and engage), DARPA will further its drive to build smaller, cheaper satellites, and the NRO will get an excellent synthetic aperture radar platform.

Equally important, the three-way joint program office established for Discoverer II holds promise as a model for the integration of national security space activities, said Peters.

Meanwhile, the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program is perhaps the pre-eminent current example of partnering between the Air Force and the private sector.

Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and the Air Force have each invested $1 billion in EELV development, Peters noted. The effort will ensure that the next generation of US commercial launch rockets will be able to meet the requirements necessary for government payloads and should reduce by $6 billion the cost of DoD’s planned launches between 2002 and 2020.

“The Air Force needs to move out on partnering,” said Peters.

Gen. Richard B. Myers

Quick to take up the Peters assertion was Gen. Richard B. Myers, commander in chief of NORAD and US Space Command and commander of Air Force Space Command.

Myers said that the service cannot hope to achieve the full promise of space without building trust and confidence between the US government, industry, and allies.

“Space is too expensive, too interdependent, too complex, too important to go it alone,” he said.

Integration is the key task facing space planners, according to Myers. The term comprises efforts to partner with industry, efforts to operate across the military services, and efforts to fit into the larger context of the modern economy.

“Integration acknowledges the growing networks and connections throughout all levels of society as space fuels the evolving information age,” said Myers.

This new era will be unpredictable. Right now, the US does not face any threats at the strategic level. No one now threatens the very existence of the nation.

However, all agree that the world remains dangerous-as witness Bosnia and Iraq. And the nation’s overwhelming military superiority could be eroded in the future if our adversaries surpass the United States in understanding how to use bits and bytes. “Information-based technological advances have the potential to level the playing field,” said Myers.

As to space priorities, the first task must be resolving the pressing concerns of the service’s people, according to the space CINC. Pilots are not the only specialty being drawn out of the Air Force by opportunities in the private sector.

“In space ops, for instance, we’re already seeing problems retaining our enlisted troops after their first term because the explosion in commercial space makes their skills so highly valued,” said Myers.

Air Force people need breathing space in which to handle today’s missions while they transition to tomorrow’s vision. That means higher pay, better benefits, improved quality of life, and relief from force reductions until the 2010 concept of the Air Force of the future is in place.

Modernization is Air Force task two. There, senior leaders should be concerned not so much about a hollow force as what Myers calls a “dead-end” force-something that may have high readiness ratings but consists of obsolete weapons and systems.

The Space Based Infrared System is the military space community’s No. 1 modernization priority, according to Myers. “SBIRS is a system of systems, each part of which is a must have,” he said. “It’s the future of our early warning mission, and it’s vital to national and theater missile defense.”

Space control is another mission area that is growing rapidly. Force application is also an important mission where demonstration projects and R&D efforts now in the works may help the Air Force understand what is possible, even as national leaders debate what might be desirable in this area.

The Air Force is looking at programs that cut across all mission areas, one of which is the space operations vehicle. USAF is committed to modernizing the Navstar Global Positioning System satellite constellation.

“We’re also dedicated to recapturing our lost share of the launch business for the United States,” said Myers. “Key to that effort is upgrading our range infrastructure.”

Important policy issues need to be resolved if the US is to take full advantage of the potential of space. How best can the nation protect its space-based assets and interests-by weapons or treaties? Where is the launch business going, and should the US subsidize commercial launches or not? What does the term “information operations” mean, in a military context

Finally, the Air Force needs to be correctly organized for this new future.

“It’s been clear in recent exercises and wargames that we must consider assigning a single operational CINC the task of focusing on information network operations for the warfighter,” said Myers. “Given the clear linkage between space and information networks, there is a strong case to be made that those responsibilities should fall to us at US Space Command.”

Gen. George T. Babbitt Jr.

Many speakers at the symposium discussed the nature of, and the need for, military-industry partnerships. On the military side, more than talk is now required, said Gen. George T. Babbitt Jr., commander of Air Force Materiel Command. The explosive growth in space technologies is simply offering too many great opportunities.

“Rhetoric alone will no longer suffice to move us along the path from airpower to aerospace power,” he said. “Real action, real change is required.”

Space today is a business. The federal government proved in the 1960s that “we could gain access to space”; today, industry has used the leverage of “that access to increase our field of view and ability to globally communicate.” Over the next five years, 80 percent of space launches will be commercial, according to some experts. The space industry itself estimates that its revenues will grow from $79 billion in 1997 to more than $117 billion by 2001.

As private industry becomes dominant in space, its leaders worry about launch costs and on-orbit costs-far more than has been the case in the military in times past.

“Therein lies the need for change on the military side of this partnership,” said Babbitt. “If we in the military are to be good partners with an industry driven by the pressure of business, then we must become better businessmen.”

Partnerships that take advantage of complementary skills and make efficient use of financial resources are likely to offer an effective means for managing this transition. However, the glib way these marriages are discussed can hide the fact that the business approach to partnering is an unfamiliar one to many in the armed forces. Effective teamwork means the Air Force will have to spend some time learning to get things right.

The most widely known kind of partnership–that in which partners are individually and jointly liable for the actions of each other-probably does not have much utility in the space business, said Babbitt.

Joint ventures, in which partners pool their resources and share proportionately in the benefits, have some promise. The EELV is an example of how there is some movement in this direction.

“The Air Force’s contribution ensures that its requirement for military launch is adequately considered in the design. … Pressure from commercial customers will continue to ensure that launch costs are kept as low as possible,” said Babbitt.

“Partnership” can also refer to a more open relationship between government and industry, in which information flows more easily and fewer misunderstandings occur. This is the stuff of acquisition reform, and the AFMC chief said he believed some progress has been made in this area.

Future partnerships may reflect the reality that true savings and performance improvement come when the military just states requirements and stays away from telling industry how to do its job.

“In the future we need to buy services and not hardware,” said Babbitt.

At AFMC officials have been focusing their attention on understanding and measuring the outputs of their efforts. As they do, they discover ways to become more efficient-better businessmen-themselves.

Understanding the value of capital assets is an area of particular interest. “For example, we are looking closely at our real property assets and the many major equipment assets that support our depot maintenance, test and evaluation, and research laboratory missions,” said Babbitt.

The hard part comes when AFMC finds excess capacity. Getting rid of unneeded infrastructure is more difficult for government than it is for industry.

Good partnerships require the partners to be equals. The interests of each party must be understood by all.

“We on the military side must learn to think like businessmen,” said Babbitt. “Those of you on the industry side will have to learn to deal with us in a different way once we’ve learned these new skills.”

James F. Albaugh

The mere fact that industry representatives and military officers are sitting down together and talking about partnerships represents a major change in the way the Pentagon spends money, pointed out James F. Albaugh, president of Boeing Space and Communications Group.

Five or 10 years ago, when competition was the acquisition watchword, “all the watchdogs would have gotten very twitchy and I’m sure we’d have ’60 Minutes’ come barreling through the doors” at a meeting such as the AFA symposium, said Albaugh.

The bad old days saw a huge increase in government rules and regulations designed to protect taxpayers from waste, fraud, and abuse. It created a spiraling cycle of distrust.

Today, many of those rules and procedures are being torn down, and trust is being built up.

“Just as DoD and the services are changing, the industry is changing as well,” said Albaugh.

Acquisition reform efforts are already paying off on the bottom line, the Boeing representative insisted. The changes mean the Airborne Laser will come to fruition in six years, instead of its original goal of 12.

In the GPS program, the customer went from giving Boeing a statement of work to providing only a statement of objectives. That helped send costs down from $43 million to $28 million per satellite. On-orbit lifetime has increased from six to 13 years.

EELV is a classic case of successful military-industry partnering, said Albaugh. Due to the flexible approach of the program, the new Atlas and the new Delta rockets will be developed in four years.

“I was just reading the other day that it took Burger King two years to develop the new french fry. If we can do rocket science in four years and they develop french fries in two years, I think we are on the right track,” said Albaugh.

Some EELV goals, such as a 25 percent reduction in the cost of payloads to orbit, were challenging, but the flexibility of the partnering approach allowed Rocketdyne to derive its EELV engine from the space shuttle main engine without having to introduce new technologies.

“So now what we have is an engine that we are going to develop not in 10 years but two and one-half years. And we are going to have an engine with 50 percent more thrust than the space shuttle main engine and we are going to build it for a fraction of the cost,” said Albaugh.

On the question of the use of an important national asset-space launch ranges-Albaugh of Boeing challenged the thinking of his audience, however.

The current space launch policy allows industry to use excess launch capacity at government-built launch pads on a noninterfering basis. A major thrust of current discussion is “about how to share costs more equitably,” said Albaugh. That would mean industry would have to pay more.

However, foreign launch ranges are universally–and heavily–subsidized by their governments. If US costs go too high, then the commercial launch business could end up overseas, and once again the government could be stuck with all range costs.

“I don’t have the answer, but I think it is a bigger issue than Boeing or Lockheed Martin or the Air Force,” said Albaugh. “It really is all about national space policy, and we need to work together to come up with the right answer.”

K. Michael Henshaw

Already, acquisition reforms driven by partnering have indeed begun to bear fruit, said K. Michael Henshaw, president of Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space.

However, they need to be carried further-into military satellite communications, remote sensing, and launch vehicles. There are major business tenets that the military still needs to embrace, said Henshaw. “One is the exploitation of common product to multiple use,” he said.

Except for very specialized items, the days of one item, one use are almost over in military space. Launch vehicles will be commodities in four years. “Between four and 10 years from now, spacecraft buses must be commodities-things you buy off the shelf,” said the Lockheed space chief.

A second tenet is that the military should acquire, or think about acquiring, full systems of systems. Terminals might be purchased along with satellites, for instance.

Thirdly, the military needs to employ business terms.

“We are going to see, in our lifetime, liquidated damages from a government launch that is not launched on time,” said Henshaw.

In general, further acquisition reforms should focus on standards, partnership, harmonizing of requirements, and the use of long-term commitments to gain production economies, according to Henshaw.

Lockheed has been the Navy’s fleet ballistic missile contractor for over 42 years. The long relationship has allowed the firm to work hard every day at bringing costs down, said the Lockheed official.

“Am I saying, get rid of competition?” said Henshaw. “No, but industry’s way of reducing price is long-term agreement. Sometimes, government’s way is too much competition and not enough long-term involvement.”

Lt. Gen. Ronald T. Kadish

In the military’s view, acquisition reform is easier said than done. Take the setting of requirements for information and communication systems.

“A lot of our problems with requirements-from an acquisition viewpoint-is that we really don’t know what we want in this brave new age of information and space until we see what we have,” said Lt. Gen. Ronald T. Kadish, the commander of Electronic Systems Center. “The timing gets screwed up.”

Technological change is accelerating at a pace that makes both the military and industry uncomfortable. “Imagine a future–and I am not so sure it is all that much [in the] future–where some soldier engaged in heavy combat on a battlefield can call home and talk to his wife,” said Kadish.

Meanwhile, real military needs are very difficult to determine. Already, military infrastructure, from satellites to Joint STARS to JTIDS (Joint Tactical Information Distribution System), can provide warfighters so much information that it becomes an overload.

The military has only begun to understand what “systems of systems” means for its users, according to Kadish. So much procurement in the past has focused simply on platforms. But the integration and interoperability of these platforms is becoming extremely important, to the point where it will be its own weapon on the future battlefield.

“We have a very difficult problem turning that vision into actual execution and it is easier to build the network than it is to figure out how to use it,” said Kadish.

Maj. Gen. Eugene L. Tattini

Space is clearly a revolution in progress, said Maj. Gen. Eugene L. Tattini, commander of Space and Missile Systems Center. Anyone, or almost anyone, will be able to buy one-meter-accurate images taken from space and have them delivered overnight. Commercial launch has exploded beyond expectations, with more than 30 space ports proposed or actually in development. One system–GPS–is “now becoming a public utility internationally,” said Tattini.

To help bring all this together, the Air Force senior leadership has asked space and missile systems to do an extensive and comprehensive look at commercially available space alternatives, in light of current Air Force-based missions. Commercial input will be key, said Tattini.

The effort is organized into five study areas: launch capabilities; communications; remote sensing, surveillance, and meteorolgy; navigation; and range and satellite command and control.

Recommendations from the study could find their way into policy as early as the 2002 budget. But “in order for any kind of military use of commercialized space to be relevant, it is going to have to help us execute the military mission,” said Tattini.

Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart

Sixty years from now, the leadership of the Air Force will undoubtedly look back on the current era and see it as one of revolution by evolution. Each new system, from the Airborne Laser to the Space Based Infrared System to the reusable space plane, could well be seen in the future as small individual parts of a larger change.

Such is the view of Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart, the vice chief of staff of the Air Force.

Looking forward, he said, the path ahead is not obvious. That is particularly true for budgeteers.

“What is not … clear to me is how we come to grips with the financial issues associated with what we need to do and what we plan on doing in terms of space,” said Eberhart.

The investment necessary will be comparable to that needed to produce the nuclear capability which helped win the Cold War. It will take that kind of money to make sure the US has no peer in space matters in coming decades.

“I think we will step up to that table-not this year or next but during our lifetime,” said the vice chief.

USAF is an “aerospace” force–a term used by the Air Force since the 1950s. Space will clearly become a larger and larger part of that equation in the years ahead, as Eberhart sees it, though that does not mean that “air” will become less important than “space.”

Moreover, Eberhart told the AFA audience, the Air Force has to be careful to not just think about applying and exploiting space solely through Air Force systems and units. “We should view space through the joint warfighters’ eyes,” he said. “[That is how] warfighters will benefit from what we are doing. … We ought not [to] view it as a zero sum game. We ought to view it as getting better as an aerospace team,” said Eberhart.

Lt. Gen. Lester L. Lyles

The following is excerpted from a speech by Lt. Gen. Lester L. Lyles, director of the Pentagon’s Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, to the AFA symposium.

“Thirty years ago [I was] a brand-new second lieutenant, right out of graduate school, a mechanical engineer, coming out here at Space and Missile Systems Organization-the old name for SMC. … If we at that time had … looked up the word ‘commercial,’ what we would have seen is something that said, ’60-second pause that will allow you to get a beer during a football game.’ …

“Ten years ago, when I came back here as a brand-new young colonel in charge, working for Lt. Gen. Don Cromer and Maj. Gen. Bob Rankin, in charge of the space launch directorate out here, things did change drastically. The Commercial Space Launch Act … was in its infancy. … We were just beginning to figure out what that really meant. The big challenge at the time for us was trying to figure out one of the major programs, the development of the Atlas II. It was going to be our first real entity in terms of the Commercial Space Launch Act. General Dynamics down in San Diego at the time was going to develop the Atlas II. We were going to marry that military requirement that we had with their commercial requirements, marry a very robust, as we called it at the time, military space launch manifest against their commercial launch manifest. In all honesty we weren’t quite sure how it was going to work out. …

“Four years ago, I came back here, this time as commander of SMC and things had changed drastically. Desert Storm had happened three years prior to that. Desert Storm was our first real space war. We really learned that commercialization of space had already taken place.

“[C]ommercial space launch activity had grown exponentially. We found that we were no longer dominant in terms of that particular venue. Other venues had started to change, too. Space communications had already started to get very commercial. … In the areas of navigation and surveillance, things had changed again and we were no longer the No. 1 power-we being the military. … Space dominance had changed in terms of its definition. We were no longer the dominant force. The dominant force was commercialization.

“From that historical perspective–30 years, 10 years, and four years ago–things have drastically changed. Today I will say that no longer-when we talk about the necessity of partnership-no longer is it a politically correct term or a nice thing to do. It is absolutely a necessity.”

Peter Grier, the Washington bureau chief of the Christian Science Monitor, is a longtime defense correspondent and regular contributor to Air Force Magazine. His most recent article, “The New Doctor Is In,” appeared in the January 1999 issue.