The Satellite 2014 conference and expo at the Washington D.C. Convention Center on Wednesday. Pictured (left to right) Richard McKinney, panel moderator and deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for Space; Bruce T. Bennett, former US DoD satellite executive; Mark Valero, Lockheed Martin; Bruce Chesley, Boeing; Philip Harlow, XTAR; Doug Loverro, Defense Department. (John Bretschneider/Staff)
WASHINGTON — When assembling its space budget, the US Department of Defense remained focused on heading toward smaller and more survivable platforms, according to a top official.
“There’s no question that the budget challenges our ingenuity and our creativity,” said Doug Loverro, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy. “This budget challenges our ability to do whatever we want to at once. The budget, however, is sort of like the throttle of the engine. It shouldn’t change the direction your car goes. It just changes the speed you get there.”
Loverro was speaking at the annual SATELLITE convention last week. Although heavily weighted toward commercial satellite issues, the conference held several panels on military programs.
The direction in question is toward “disaggregation,” or moving away from major space platforms in favor of ones that are smaller and more survivable. Because of the timetables involved in space programs, the Pentagon is laying the groundwork to move toward disaggregation with an eye on 2025 to launch the first major programs.
DoD officials say disaggregation is necessary because space systems are more vulnerable than ever, as Loverro highlighted.
“Space was never really a sanctuary to begin with,” Loverro said in his speech. “The sanctuary was provided by the fact that space enjoyed the same kind of umbrella of deterrence as our allies did in Europe and Asia. The nuclear umbrella for the United States provided a defensive mechanism for our allies ... and space enjoyed that same kind of protection. You didn’t attack space because it meant you were entering a nuclear war.
“That has changed fundamentally, and it changed fundamentally because we decided we want to use space differently, and enemies have recognized that.”
The Air Force has “embraced” disaggregation, Undersecretary Eric Fanning said at a March 5 event, but not everyone is on board.
“Because we’re proposing increased disaggregation, we’re having to explain our analysis and our planning behind this to other parts of the [DoD],” Fanning said. “I wouldn’t characterize it as resistance, more curiosity as to what we mean by disaggregation, and how it is we’re proposing we go about with this new architecture.”
Philip Harlow, XTAR president and COO and a panelist with Loverro, warned the budget cannot be an excuse to avoid innovation.
“It’s historically correct to say, as the budget becomes a problem, people try to circle wagons and protect their programs,” Harlow said. “It’s incumbent on us to work with government to find ways to make sure that we don’t just continue to protect the old ways because we’re comfortable with them.”
Mark Valerio, vice president and general manager of Military Space at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, and another member of the panel, warned that DoD “must improve the way they buy things [and] must adopt some commercial buying practices. The government ... must assure we don’t repeat the mistakes of the 1990s, when eight of the 10 systems were in transition. That really overtaxed the industrial base and overtaxed the acquisition system.” ■