U.S. Satellite Program Delays & Costs Defended, Criticized
Despite a number of delays and cost overruns in programs like SBIRS High and AEHF Milstar 3, Air Force officials at the 21st National Space Symposium on April 5, 2005 said the Pentagon’s acquisition system for buying high-tech military satellites and launch vehicles is not broken.
The Air Force officials’ assessment contrasts with a Jan. 28, 2005, U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report which said that “many of the space programs we have reviewed over the past several decades have incurred unanticipated cost and schedule increases because they began without knowing whether technologies could work as intended, and invariably found themselves addressing technical problems in a more costly environment.” The report also acknowledged the Pentagon had made some progress in conducting space-related science and technology research within a broader strategy.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas Goslin, Deputy Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, defended the satellite programs, saying that space systems are being developed by the United States that “would have been thought of as miracles 10 years ago.” Another panelist noted that space programs cannot take the standard ‘fly, fix, fly…’ development approach because the vehicle is placed in orbit, giving the Air Force just one shot to be successful.
If the goal of the current set of satellite systems is bleeding edge dominance for reasons of planning or policy, then given the requirements of space launches, the GAO Report’s finding are what one would expect as the price for having that capability potential.
In support of that hypothesis, Pete Rustan, director of advanced systems and technologies at the National Reconnaissance Office said space system users impose “too many requirements for each satellite.” He also blamed large defense contractors for poor management of their subcontractors.
It is clear is that despite implementing the recommendations of a May 2003 Defense Science Board report entitled, “Acquisition of National Security Space Programs,” delays and budget increases in space programs continue to be the norm. The report of the Defense Science Board identified five reasons for cost increases and schedule delays:
# Cost has replaced mission success as the primary driver in managing space development programs.
# Unrealistic estimates lead to unrealistic budgets and unexecutable programs.
# Undisciplined definition and uncontrolled growth in system requirements increase cost and schedule delays.
# Government capabilities to lead and manage the space acquisition process have seriously eroded.
# Industry has failed to implement proven practices on some programs.
Sources & Readings
- CDI Space Security Updates #4.2005 ~ April 21, 2005
- GAO (Jan 28/05, GAO-05-155) – Technology Development: New DOD Space Science and Technology Strategy Provides Basis for Optimizing Investments, but Future Versions Need to Be More Robust [See also PDF Format].
- DID – U.S. Air Force Updates Space Acquisition Policy
- DID – SBIRS Dilemma: Go High or Go Home