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Space Corps Would Fix Troubled OCX, FAB-T, Argue Top StratForces Lawmakers

Posted by Colin Clark on

WASHINGTON: Space Corps. It sounds cool. You get visions of space marines and pilots saving the universe. In their latest blast against the Air Force, though, Reps. Mike Rogers and Jim Cooper are more, well, down to earth. They argue that the failings of big-ticket programs such as OCX and FAB-T offer ammunition that a Space Corps independent of the Air Force would help fix space acquisition, in addition the other woes they say face the space enterprise.

“The current system is wasting billions of dollars and failing to deliver capability to the warfighter,” they said in a statement yesterday evening. “Our adversaries have already reorganized their space programs and are reaping the benefits. Those who continue to oppose reform need to explain to the warfighter, the American people, and their elected representatives how the status quo is acceptable.”

The two lawmakers say that the Strategic Forces subcommittee “recently learned” that OCX “has now slipped further behind in the schedule DOD committed to last year, and has now grown in cost by $630 million. The FAB-T program has now apparently slipped behind by a year.”

I checked with Raytheon and they say the “schedule slip” is not. “In March 2017, the US Air Force updated Raytheon’s 24-month contract to add an additional 6 months of margin. We remain on track to deliver this essential, advanced capability to that timeline,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.

Apparently, that $630 million is a new program estimate by the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation. However, an industry source says that while there is a roughly quarter-billion dollar reserve fund which has not been tapped, there have been no new cost increases to the program. The 2018 budget request reflects increased optimism by the Pentagon, boosting the request for OCX to $511 million, up $119 million from last year.

In September, Raytheon will deliver the launch and checkout system for OCX to support the GPS III launch next year.

FAB-T comprises terminals designed to communicate with and control the EMP- and jam-resistant Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites. OCX ground stations provide highly secure links to the GPS III constellation. OCX is the first system to be approved for the US government’s top cyber and jamming security requirements.

Let’s look at Rogers’ and Cooper’s argument that the Space Corps will somehow fix space acquisition. First, acquisition of large weapon systems has very little to do with how a service is organized. Services do create requirements, but those requirements — especially for large space systems — go through a rigorous review process by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council because they serve the entire military and, usually, the intelligence community as well. Space acquisition would not be likely to change much under an autonomous command unless involved completely rejiggering Space and Missile Systems Center, which is responsible for the vast majority of space systems. So far, the House has not publicly discussed any such measures.

The crux of Rogers’ arguments in favor of a Space Corps appears to be that the Russians and Chinese have reorganized their military space enterprises and have caught up with the United States in many ways in the last few years. Therefore, we must act.

At a recent hearing, where he excoriated the Air Force leadership’s resistance to his reform proposals, he said this:

Now the Air Force leadership would have us trust them – I don’t think so. They just need a few more years to rearrange the deck chairs – I don’t think so. This is the same Air Force that got us into the situation where the Russians and the Chinese are near-peers to us in space.

In his initial speech unveiling the Space Corps idea at this year’s Space Symposium, Rogers noted that “there might be a conflict of interest between space and the Air Force’s others priorities” since the Air Force Secretary also serves as the Principal DoD Space Advisor (PDSA). He also said there’s a basic conflict between the service’s domination by fighter and bomber pilots and the needs of space.

Rogers also said “the operational, acquisition, and resourcing authorities are not aligned,” but the committee has so far not offered alternatives to the existing structure.

As for FAB-T, it’s been a mess for awhile — in common with many of the ground systems that make space systems useful. They tend to come online years late and be significantly overbudget. See OCX

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