No One-Size-Fits-All Solution to Reducing Cost of National Security Space Capabilities, Say Panelists

No One-Size-Fits-All Solution to Reducing Cost of National Security Space Capabilities, Say Panelists

At a briefing this morning focused on a recently released Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) report, representatives from the national security space community emphasized that many new processes out there hold promise to reduce costly space programs, but that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

The new report, Easing the Burden: Reducing the Cost of National Security Space Capabilities, contains findings and recommendations that resulted from a two-day Cost Reduction workshop with industry and government officials organized by AIA in May 2013.

Panelists at today’s event described some of the findings of the report and provided examples of the programs and practices their organizations are exploring to reduce the cost of national security space capabilities in all phases of implementation. Jeff Trauberman, Vice President, Space, Intelligence & Missile Defense at Boeing, for instance, said that Boeing’s adoption of commercial practices in the development of three satellites of the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) communications system had resulted in $150 million in savings.

The panelists emphasized that changes in contracting, acquisition and management practices deliver the greatest cost savings, without necessarily incurring additional risk from the technological or engineering perspective. Alternative architectures, however, are also being explored. As David Barnhart of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) explained, the Phoenix Program he manages is addressing this very question by developing a myriad of technologies that would enable satellite capture, autonomous rendezvous and assembly in-orbit, as well as the ability to augment capabilities as requirements evolve.

Panelists said that practices being considered for their cost-saving benefits – such as disaggregation, block buys and hosted payloads – hold promise, but that none will be appropriate for all missions or requirements. In a version of the phrase that was repeated throughout the event, AIA’s Vice President of Space Systems Frank Slazer said that there is “not a one-size-fits-all solution.”

Considering the challenges to the broad adoption of some of the cost-saving practices discussed, panelists mentioned the need for increased acquisition stability. “We’re very narrowly near-term focused,” said Keith Robertson of the National Reconnaissance Office. Speakers commented how disagreement over requirements – even at the Congressional level – in addition to funding instability can be detrimental to a program, eventually driving up cost.

This need for stability also goes back to the health of the industrial base. As Slazer noted, actions that help the industrial base also help national security. This includes a concern for education and the ability of industry to attract a younger generation of professionals. “We need to return to the fifties” on the nation’s ability to generate a pool of talent to support the industrial base, said Rick Skinner, Director, Business and Advanced Systems Development, Northrop Grumman Aerospace.

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