LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
Space is a warfighting domain, and while near-peer adversaries are rapidly advancing space capabilities that threaten Department of Defense systems and national security, Airmen at the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise Systems Directorate here are implementing SMC 2.0 initiatives by streamlining their acquisitions processes and making launch service more agile and effective for the warfighter.
“We’re dominant in space, but our adversaries are starting to understand and look at how they can deny our access. So we need to be more resilient and be able to launch more flexibly,” said Col. Robert Bongiovi, Launch Enterprise director.
The upcoming “Phase 2” launch services contract and creation of the Mission Manifest Office (MMO) are two examples of how LE is pioneering the way forward.
LE is driven to pursue change in order to provide launch flexibility that meets warfighter needs while leveraging the robust U.S. commercial launch industry, which has grown significantly during the past five to seven years.
“Those factors have us refocusing on how we move forward and how we invest in partnership with industry,” Bongiovi said.
For the first time in 20 years, the Air Force is in the position to meet all national security launch needs through competition among multiple viable launch providers.
“The Launch Service Agreements that were awarded in October to United Launch Alliance, Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin [showcase how] we’re working toward a flexible way to buy launch services competitively so that we can keep leveraging this industry,” said Bongiovi.
Under the current LSA, LE is leveraging industry innovation with public-private partnerships in commercial launch solutions to ensure they meet the most critical and complex warfighter’s needs. The next step in this acquisitions process lies right around the corner, and is simply referred to as “Phase 2.”
“Our plan is to go right in to an open competition for five years of launch services that we’ll award to two companies,” Bongiovi said.
The Phase 2 contract is a robust, full and open competition that will be awarded to two providers to achieve assured access to space across all Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle reference orbits. This approach of requiring awardees to meet the full spectrum of all national security space requirements enables the resilient and capable space architecture required to dominate in space.
LE released the Phase 2 Request for Proposals draft on Dec. 3, 2018, and will now begin engaging in rigorous feedback discussions with industry.
“We expect thousands of comments in these rounds of discussions,” Bongiovi continued.
This dialogue enables LE to hone in on the discriminators that make the end result most accurately meet the warfighters’ needs. On Dec. 11, 2018, LE hosted an industry day, to meet individually with each company to foster open discussion.
“We’re not going to proceed without a lot of input from industry,” Bongiovi said. “It’s a really exciting time in launch right now. We have these guys out there doing really neat things and we want to encourage them and use [their capabilities] to meet our needs, but we’ve got to figure out how to do that.”
LE’s Phase 2 framework is aimed at sustainable competition. “We need to see how the commercial space market goes. About two to three years after this award we will be paying a lot of attention to see what the commercial launch and satellite market is doing,” Bongiovi said. “What we’d like to do is repeat this competition every five years, tailoring the next round to our needs and what [innovation] is happening within industry.”
“We design this to be as competitive as we can while ensuring we meet the warfighters’ needs of flexibility and launch capability at a reasonable cost, and build in techniques where they can make changes pretty late in the flow. That is our goal in the five-year contract strategy,” Bongiovi indicated.
Continuous communication with industry is key to the success of launch development. “Industry is informed on how we evaluated their proposal. After we award, we take time to sit down with winners and losers to share with them as much about the competitive field as we can,” said Bongiovi. “We [give this feedback] in effort to help them improve for our next round or any DoD contract.”
Regardless of which launch contract LE is operating under, their priority is to assess customer needs and match it to the most effective launch platform. To do this more efficiently, LE created the Mission Manifest Office.
“MMO is like a front door in to launch,” said Bongiovi. “Operational customers can come in whether they’re Space Based Infrared System or Global Positioning Systems and need a big launch vehicle, or they’re a small cubesat that could ride on the back of one those launch vehicles.”
“We’re creating a clearing house. We’re working to the future where we need to have this resilient and flexible access to space…so the people working hard to figure out the orbital capability needs don’t have to worry about how to get their launch funded or who they need to go to. We’ve created a place where they can have flexible options.”
“We’re focusing on our customers…getting their satellite to where it needs to be when it needs to be there,” said Bongiovi. “I think it’s really changed the culture of how we view our payload customers and how they view us.”
This year boasted numerous successes for LE. “We are really proud of what we do here,” Bongiovi said. “The successful AEHF-4 launch is a good example of how our culture is changing.”
In January, the customer requirements changed late in the flow. While LE had previously been launching AEHF spacecraft with three solids, they were able to add two more solids to the Atlas launch vehicle to meet the customer’s new orbital requirements.
“Providing this kind of launch flexibility to the warfighter is evidence of a positive culture shift,” said Bongiovi. “We accomplished this smoothly and successfully. That was a huge event for us.”