Sat. May 18th, 2024

Speeding Along: Space Force Locks in Deals with Commercial Partners

Alex Thompson By Alex Thompson May6,2024

WASHINGTON — Faced with increasing demands for technological innovation, the new head of the Space Systems Command, Lt. Gen. Philip Garrant, is focused on three priorities: building a skilled workforce, embracing commercial technologies, and accelerating the delivery of mission-critical systems.

“We have a lot of new work coming. I’ve got to be able to support all these new mission growth areas and look at where we can leverage commercial technologies to go faster,” Garrant said in an interview last week at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs. 

Garrant spoke with SpaceNews shortly after Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman addressed the symposium, emphasizing the urgency of faster innovation and noting that “the timeline from concept to operational capability will be important, and we don’t have the luxury of waiting years for programs to deliver.”

Based in Los Angeles, the Space Force’s Space Systems Command (SSC) is responsible for acquiring and maintaining hardware, software and services for the U.S. military.  

With an annual budget of about $15 billion, the command buys launch services, military satellite constellations for tasks like navigation (GPS) and secure communication, ground stations and data processing facilities, as well as tools to track objects in space.

Saltzman’s message was clear, Garrant said. The U.S. military requires cutting-edge space capabilities, and there’s no time to waste. 

He said the pressure to accelerate is driven by the new realities of the space environment. The proliferation of adversarial capabilities necessitates a more responsive and adaptable approach, Garrant added. 

Adoption of commercial technologies

Before being named commander of SSC, Garrant served in several acquisition-focused positions, and was vice commander of SSC from 2017 to 2019. 

“Our workforce has been through a lot of reorganizations,” he said. “In the last six years, it’s been a state of constant change.” What is needed now, Garrant added, is not another reorganization but to evolve the existing procurement processes and culture in order to keep pace with adversaries and tap the innovation of the U.S. private space industry.

The Space Force last week released a commercial strategy document that outlines plans to leverage the capabilities of the commercial space industry. The strategy has been in the works for more than a year and Garrant led that effort in his previous job as deputy chief of space operations for strategy, plans, programs and requirements.

SSC for years has been pushing for greater adoption of commercial space services, for example, as an alternative to government-owned hardware in areas like satellite communications and in-orbit services. The publication of the Space Force strategy officially validates these efforts, Garrant said. 

“Now for the first time, at the service level, we have an understanding of the terms of reference of what we mean when we talk about inherently governmental, contracted or commercial,” he said. 

“We now have the support to ‘buy first’ and make it part of the architecture,” he added. It’s not just about “augmentation” of government systems with commercial add-ons, but actual integration, Garrant said. “This is making commercial capabilities part of our Space Force hybrid architecture.”

New budget line for space services

The new commercial strategy, said Garrant, has been bolstered by a significant development in the 2024 defense budget as Congress for the first time allowed the Space Force to establish a separate funding line for commercial services.

“This is a new program element,” he said, emphasizing the importance of the new program element, which is separate from an existing budget line for commercial satellite communications. “We need to be able to tap into the commercial ecosystem,” he said. “And the fiscal year 2024 defense budget gives us the tools to do that.”

The specifics of how this new funding line will be used and how much money will be allocated have yet to be sorted out, said Garrant. “Congress wants us to use it as a pathfinder to do commercial collaborative programming.”

The private sector for a long time has been saying that SSC has “put our money where our mouth is,” Garrant said. “We keep talking about commercial, but if we’re not spending money on it, it really doesn’t mean anything.”

The new funding line is a major step in that direction, he said. “The programming is the last piece we needed to solve.” The pathfinder budget line “gives us the tools to explore promising commercial capabilities and get them into the hands of our warfighters faster.”

New demands on workforce

Another area of concern for Garrant is building a skilled workforce that can navigate the complexities of modern space acquisition.

“I’m responsible for organizing, training and equipping,” he said. “And we have to make sure that we have the best acquirers working with industry. So that’s going to be my focus.”

He said many Space Force operators are enthusiastic about careers in the acquisition field. “And particularly our engineers, because they know there’s these really hard problems out there for them to solve.”

Given the emphasis on commercially developed technologies,program managers have to be equipped to decide whether something can be commercially acquired or purpose-built, Garrant noted. “That’s a new problem for us. That’s what we have to figure out how to do.”

“We’ve got to work through this new way of thinking and actually truly make ‘commercial first,’” said Garrant. “I think informally, it’s worked really well. But we’re at a point now where we need to put a little structure behind it.”

Alex Thompson

By Alex Thompson

Alex is an award-winning journalist with a passion for investigative reporting. With over 15 years of experience in the field, Alex has covered a wide range of topics from politics to entertainment. Known for in-depth research and compelling storytelling, Alex's work has been featured in major news outlets around the world.

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One thought on “Speeding Along: Space Force Locks in Deals with Commercial Partners”
  1. Will leveraging commercial technologies really speed up the delivery of mission-critical systems in the Space Force?

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