PENTAGON CITY: Air Force acquisition czar Will Roper says there would be “pros and cons” to splitting space acquisition out from the Air Force, but that one clear drawback would be making it more difficult to integrate space and air operations — at a time when the Air Force’s top priority is Multi-Domain Command and Control (MDC2).
“One of the things that would be challenging, because it is just human nature, is once you divide space and air it’s just going to hard to keep them well integrated,” he said at the Defense News conference here yesterday afternoon. “And our chief’s number one priority is multi-domain command and control.” Indeed, Acting Air Force Secretary Matt Donovan told the conference on Wednesday that MDC2 is critical to the service’s overarching effort to transform into a “Digital Air Force.”
As part of that effort, Roper explained, he is involved in making decisions about the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) that involves integrating air and space capabilities, as well as about Air Force and eventually Space Force cloud operations and IT systems that also need to be integrated.
Another would be the need for more staff. “If you split it out, you have to staff it up. So that’s one bit of advice I’ve given” to Congress as the Senate and the House move forward on reconciliation of their fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) bills. The Senate version of the bill would strip Roper of responsibility for space acquisition, creating a new “principal assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition and Integration (SAF/SP) and establish the position as the senior space acquisition executive (SSAE) for all space acquisition across the Air Force.” The SAF/SP, acting as the SSAE, would report to the Air Force Secretary and would oversee and control all Air Force space acquisition activities. This would govern “all major defense acquisition programs relating to warfighting in space.” All space acquisition projects currently managed by Roper would be transitioned to the SAF/SP, along with “control of the manpower, agencies, and budgets within the Space and Missile Systems Center, the Space Rapid Capabilities Office, and the Space Development Agency.” The SAF/SP would be equivalent to a civilian 4-star.
During the same panel discussion on Air Force priorities for its upcoming 2021 budget, Lt. Gen. Timothy Fay, deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration and requirements, ruled out another effort by the Air Force to convince Congress to go along with divesting the ancient A-10 Warthog close air support aircraft fleet. Instead, the A-10 will remain in service until the 2030s — although Fay clearly is less than happy with that decision. “I will tell you, I wish the response had been that the Air Force is actually bold enough to get after the threats that we’re facing,” he said wryly.
Donovan earlier stressed that the service would need to divest some legacy systems to meet directions given by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and continue its ambitious transformation plans.
Lt. Gen. Mark Kelly, deputy Air Force chief of staff for operations, told the conference that “divesting is a natural border for what we have to do to get to a higher [readiness] rating.” He gave as an example the fact that the services 397 KC-135s date from 1961. “Imagine your commute in DC if DC Metro operated 400 1962 busses.”
Roper noted that a lot of Air Force programs remain “in sustainment long past the original design life.” He said the problem is so acute that: “We’ve been kicking around this idea that there needs to be a milestone past D; a milestone E where the program is proving elderly and we’re having to do Herculean tasks to keep airplanes flying that should have been retired long ago.”
Maintaining old weapons to meet peer competitors in the future is not the best way forward: “We want to be a cutting edge Air Force, working on the pediatric side of the hospital, not the geriatric side.”