General William L. Shelton, Air Force Space Command, in recent remarks described DoD’s current spending on space programs of record as “locked in” until the mid-2020s. Concluding DoD is locked into the current spending path without viable alternatives for ten or more years belies the many good reform efforts of other parties. These include the DoD’s Sec. Kendall; the Defense Business Board; industry recommendations such as our Suggestions for Better Buying Power paper, and even Congress’ recent inquiry by the Senate Armed Services Committee into the right mix of commercial-to-military bandwidth. Based on building tensions in the Asia Pacific region – and the DoD’s escalating pivot to Asia – it is critical that we plan for better, smarter buying. We need to get this effort done right, and get it right now.
Without question, the DoD should investigate options for military (and commercial) programs for the future. But why preclude near term savings that many already see as viable? If it plans only for ten-plus years down the road, the military will fall behind commercial entities that utilize today’s technology to serve their customers more cost effectively. The DoD has historically been at the cutting edge of technology. Shouldn’t the Department now maintain its strong position by focusing on the most advanced technologies available, including those from comsatcom providers?
The current budget environment has resulted in a conflicting variety of responses from different parts of DoD in response to the stark realities of Sequestration and shrinking budgets – a human reaction whenever money is tight. But instead of addressing today’s requirements separately from those of the future, it would make much more sense to look at the entire DoD buying process – and to do so in concert with trusted industry and Congressional counterparts. Regrettably the DoD seems to continue running fire drills to face current shortcomings while misguidedly clinging to the hoped-for return to large-scale programs at some future point when money is no longer a problem. If it persists in these actions, the DoD will miss the opportunity to enhance its current and future capabilities and to realize short-term cost savings.
Failure to develop a comprehensive approach to both the short and long-term challenges, or to develop an approach that excludes collaboration with commercial satellite operators that have supported DoD so ably over the past decade and a half, will result in a further threat to essential warfighter requirements and a continuing lack of financial prudence to satisfy Congress and the taxpayer.