JUST IN: Space Progress Slowed by ‘Bureaucratic Inertia,’ Official Says
Air Force photo
As the United States’ youngest service enters its fourth year, the Space Force must look for ways to speed up technological development in order to not fall behind competitors, a top service official said.
China has rapidly expanded its space capabilities in recent years, becoming the first country to land a spacecraft on the far side of the Moon in 2019 and in 2020 completing its BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, a significant rival to the United States’ Global Positioning System.
“[The Chinese] have built a military space reconnaissance strike enterprise that starts … with the ability to collect intelligence,” Vice Chief of Space Operations Gen. David “DT” Thompson said during a keynote address at the Mitchell Institute Spacepower Security Forum.
“They have demonstrated that they learned the importance and the value of space power, and they intend to use those capabilities against us should it come to a conflict,” he added.
While China’s space capabilities are “not quite as good as ours” yet according to Thompson, the United States must continue to field new capabilities of its own to ensure “our freedom of action is preserved,” he said.
However, the implementation of acquisition regulations and security processes for sharing information with industry and allies has slowed the progress of developing, acquiring and fielding key technologies, Thompson said.
“Security remains probably one of our biggest challenges, and … while we own the ability to change it, we just have some form of bureaucratic inertia that will not let us do so,” he said.
Senior leadership in the Defense Department, including Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, is “very focused on streamlining and hopefully … normalizing that structure,” he added.
The United States is capable of responding to challenges rapidly, Thompson said, pointing to the example of the Defense Department supplying military aid to Ukraine following Russia’s invasion earlier this year.
“We’ve seen … that [the Russo-Ukrainian War], that might be what it takes to address the security enterprise,” he said. “I hope not. I do know that it has the focus and attention at the highest level of leadership.”
Additionally, it is not the regulations themselves that have caused this developmental stagnation but rather how those regulations are enforced, Thompson said.
“There's a lot of latitude to do what we want to do if you're empowered to do it,” he said. “The process — and let's just say the bureaucracy — we continue to struggle with that a bit.”
Thompson praised the Space Development Agency — which became part of the Space Force on Oct. 1 — for its spiral development method, which calls for delivering new defense space capabilities every two years.
The SDA is set to begin launching Tranche 0 satellites for the National Defense Space Architecture into orbit later this year, with Tranche 1 to follow starting in 2024.
“They have found a way to use law and regulation to move out rapidly and field capabilities,” Thompson said. “They have demonstrated that [Federal Acquisition Regulation] and statute are not the problem. If we will simply empower and use them the way we should, we can do what we need to do.”