WASHINGTON: Tired of complaining about space programs that are over budget and behind schedule? Build a space version of the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office.
Oh, and just go out there and lead. You don’t need a Space Corps to fix what ails the space enterprise, former Air Force Space Commander Bob Kehler told a day-long seminar on how to organize space to fight a war.
While he said he didn’t oppose the idea of a Space Corps, championed by Reps. Mike Rogers and Jim Cooper of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces, he certainly didn’t support it. “I think you should reorganize only when absolutely necessary,” Kehler said. “At this point, at any rate, it’s a major distraction.” He said a Space Corps would “not produce” more space professionals and it “won’t help” improve space acquisition.
“If you want to fix space, go fix it,” he told the audience. “Nothing is stopping us from doing this.”
The former head of Air Force acquisition, Bill LaPlante (a Cub’s fan and thus a good person) was the one who prescribed a dose of a Rapid Capabilities Office to help cure what’s ailing space acquisition (e.g. OCX, GPS III). For those who don’t know, the RCO was created by the Air Force back in 2003 to build a surface-to-air missile defense system for use around the Capitol and White House during George Bush’s 2005 presidential inauguration. It’s first complete acquisition program (that we know of) was the Boeing-built X-37B space plane. It also acquired the plane now known as the B-21 bomber.
One of the main reasons LaPlante does not think the existing RCO should take on space programs is because an RCO must be kept focused and nimble, which means they can’t take on too much.
He noted that the Air Force RCO was able to come up with requirements, a budget and an acquisition decision on some programs within a week. Normally, just developing a requirement for a major program takes about 18 months. The Milestone B decision on the B-21 bomber, which had it been a regular acquisition probably would have had 30-50 people attending and taken most of a day, instead took an hour and hosted 18 people.
Rep. Rogers spoke at the conference as well, largely repeating the arguments he has already made to justify creation of the Space Corps. The Air Force is not really focused on space, compared to air dominance. The Air Force does not spend enough on space. The Air Force is too slow to act: “about as fast as a herd of turtles.”
Rogers and his colleagues on the HASC are, as one audience member noted, not likely to go away any time soon, so shouldn’t the Air Force leadership work with him? Kehler’s prescription was, basically, identify specific areas where Congress can help the Air Force and work on those. Don’t do anything wholesale because it’s not necessary.
But Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein have publicly and staunchly declared their opposition to a Space Corps. Can both sides just get along?