By James Spellman, Jr., Space and Missile Systems Center Public Affairs
/ Published August 27, 2015
LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, El Segundo, Calif. -- "You're still in an exciting business today, in space."
That was one of many messages expressed by Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, before a packed audience of several hundred from the Space and Missile Systems Center during an "All Call" held in the Gordon Conference Center at the Schriever Space Complex.
"I think a lot of things are going to happen in space -- commercial and military in the next few decades," said Kendall. "It will be great to be a part of that. We need to communicate that to people."
Senate confirmed in May 2012 with more than 40 years of experience in engineering, Undersecretary Kendall is responsible to the secretary of defense for all matters pertaining to acquisition; research and engineering; developmental testing; contract administration; logistics and materiel readiness; installations and environment; operational energy; chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons; the acquisition workforce; and the defense industrial base. He is the leader of the Department of Defense's efforts to increase its buying power and improve the performance of the defense acquisition enterprise.
At times blunt in his comments, Undersecretary Kendall spoke about DOD's strategic guidance and how that guidance influences and affects SMC's mandates, goals and commitments under the topic of "Better Buying Power 3.0" since its first iteration nearly five years ago by then-Undersecretary Ashton Carter, today's secretary of defense.
By "understanding the deal" of the quality of products being acquired by the Directorates and getting the best deal from aerospace providers, SMC can achieve dominant capabilities by continuing a stronger emphasis in strengthening the culture of cost consciousness, professionalism, technical excellence and innovation.
"We want to be more responsive to threats. We want to get ahead of the threats, particularly threats in areas as yours where there's a very active and robust threat (to military satellites) that's coming and getting worse over time," said Kendall. "And as we learn about it, we don't want to wait. We want to be ahead of that power curve as much as we possibly can be."
The undersecretary spoke about the need for a "paradigm change" in how SMC operates in space.
"Over a year ago, we sort of changed our strategic direction in space, where we recognized that space was, in fact, a contested environment. That it was a warfighting environment, and that we had to make some adjustments because of that," said Kendall.
"Now, making those adjustments is still very much in progress, but we're looking at the AOAs -- the analyses of alternatives for Space Based Infrared satellite replacements, and for the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite replacement now," Kendall explained. "We're thinking about Positioning, Navigation, and Timing, about Global Positioning System and how we make that robust in the future. So that process is underway, it just needs to keep going and we need to get the solutions that will be viable in a contested environment."
According to Kendall, a lot of this is motivated by the undersecretary's concerns about the United States' potential loss of technological superiority.
"I'm looking at countries like China in particular -- but also Russia to a lesser extent -- the modernization programs that they have and how effective and focused they are on defeating our capabilities, particularly our power projection capabilities," Kendall said.
"So that is what was largely behind the shift to technical excellence and innovation. The threat is motivating us to do that. We can't be complacent about our capabilities."
Kendall expressed his belief the adjustments in the strategic direction of military space are making a difference, but the changes are being done in the face of sequestration and uncertainty about the budget, which makes it very difficult to plan.
"It's being done in a context that is unfortunate and probably the worst I've ever seen in my 40 odd years in defense acquisition and defense national security," said Kendall. "Our budgets are flat and going down, and the threats are going up. I've lived through periods when the threats were going down and budgets were going down -- after the Cold War, in particular -- and I've lived through a period when threats were going up and budgets were going up - the 80's and the Reagan buildup, but being in a period in which the threats are going up and budgets are going down isn't a bunch of fun, to be honest."
One of the results of the current work being done by SMC today is that space becomes even more important to U.S. national interests.
"We just have to learn to survive in space. There are formidable threats to our space assets and they are being fielded. Some have been fielded already. Others are being fielded very shortly or the next few years," Kendall pointed out. "(There are a) wide range of things designed to threaten our relatively small number of very valuable assets in space. We have to do something about that, and the direction which we think we're headed is largely one which originally came out of Space Command; the idea of disaggregated systems that provide a proliferation of targets, and have the ability to work together to defeat the threats that might be used to attack them."
The undersecretary hammered home the point that "Acquisition is a profession. It's something that requires very specialized expertise that most people don't have, it takes a long to acquire and whatever aspect of the lifecycle of management of a program it is, whether it's acquiring services, it's still a profession," Kendall said. "It's an engineering profession, program management profession, contracting profession, testers, logisticians, all the different communities that make up the workforce that does acquisition for the DOD."
"We are extremely pleased to have Mr. Kendall on the team here at SMC," said Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, Space and Missile Systems Center commander and Air Force Program Executive Officer for Space.
"There are a number of various organizational levels between us and Mr. Kendall and sometimes there are filters out there that sort of modify the intent of something as significant as the Better Buying Power Initiative," Greaves said. "It's an invaluable opportunity to engage directly with the champion, the owner, the approval authority for this and the one that's providing guidance to us and what this really means."