Status Report

Space Acquisitions: DOD Delivering New Generations of Satellites, but Space System Acquisition Challenges Remain

By SpaceRef Editor
May 12, 2011
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Space Acquisitions: DOD Delivering New Generations of Satellites, but Space System Acquisition Challenges Remain

Cristina T. Chaplain, director, acquisition and sourcing management, before the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Senate Committee on Armed Services. GAO-11-590T, May 11.

Over the past two decades, DOD has had difficulties with nearly every space acquisition program, with years of cost and schedule growth, technical and design problems, and oversight and management weaknesses. However, to its credit, DOD continues to make progress on several of its programs–such as the Space Based Infrared System High and Advanced Extremely High Frequency programs–and is expecting to deliver significant advances in capability as a result. But other programs continue to be susceptible to cost and schedule challenges. For example, the Global Positioning System (GPS) IIIA program’s total cost has increased by about 10 percent over its original estimate, and delays in the Mobile User Objective System continue the risk of a capability gap in ultra high frequency satellite communications.

In 2010, GAO assessed DOD’s efforts to (1) upgrade and sustain GPS capabilities and (2) commercialize or incorporate into its space acquisition program the space technologies developed by small businesses. These reviews underscore the varied challenges that still face the DOD space community as it seeks to complete problematic legacy efforts and deliver modernized capabilities–for instance, the need for more focused coordination and leadership for space activities–and highlight the substantial barriers and challenges that small businesses must overcome to gain entry into the government space arena.

DOD continues to work to ensure that its space programs are more executable and produce a better return on investment. Many of the actions it has been taking address root causes of problems, though it will take time to determine whether these actions are successful. For example, DOD is working to ensure that critical technologies are matured before large-scale acquisition programs begin and requirements are defined early in the process and are stable throughout. Additionally, DOD and the Air Force are working to streamline management and oversight of the national security space enterprise.

While DOD actions to date have been good, more changes to processes, policies, and support may be needed–along with sustained leadership and attention–to help ensure that these reforms can take hold, including addressing the diffuse leadership for space programs. While some changes to the leadership structure have recently been made and others are being studied, it is too early to tell how effective they will be in streamlining management and oversight of space system acquisitions. Finally, while space system acquisition workforce capacity is essential if new weapon programs are to be successful, DOD continues to face gaps in technical and programmatic expertise for space.

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SpaceRef staff editor.