Debate Rages Over Usefulness of Pentagon’s New Space Development Agency

Mike Griffin

A debate has raged in the Pentagon over whether the new Space Development Agency will transform the acquisition of new systems, or merely unnecessarily duplicate existing capabilities within the Defense Department’s sprawling bureaucracy.

On one side of the argument are the agency’s champions, Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin and Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan. Griffin oversees the new agency, which is run by Fred Kennedy.

On the other side is outgoing secretary of the U.S. Air Force. Defense News reports:

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson’s memo, dated Feb. 28, offers a scathing rebuke of the Space Development Agency, a pet project for both acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin.

The top Air Force official argues that the Office of the Secretary of Defense, or OSD, has not adequately laid out how to transfer the authority of the SDA to the Space Force, which was provisioned in a Jan. 19 memo by the defense secretary titled “Guidance for the Establishment of the Space Development Agency.”

The SDA also “appears to replicate existing ones already ordered by Congress,” she wrote. She points to a memo by the OSD, which states that the SDA would be modeled on organizations like the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, even as the service Air Force has launched a space-focused version of the agency called the Space Rapid Capabilities Office.

“Until the Space Development Agency has a uniquely identifiable mission that cannot be accomplished by current organizations, the plan should not move forward,” she wrote.

SpaceNews reports that Griffin has dismissed these concerns:

Griffin has frequently blasted the Pentagon’s traditional procurement organizations for being slow and bound to “legacy thinking.” But he rejected the idea that the SDA is out to engage in a turf war with the Air Force, arguing that the new agency will fill space technology needs that are currently not being met. “We don’t have the time, the money, the brainpower or the energy to do duplicative things,” Griffin said.

He said he could not comment on why the Air Force fought against the SDA but he also made it clear that Wilson ultimately was overruled by Shanahan. “It took months of process to get the agency created, that’s not the same as saying that everybody agreed. Everybody didn’t agree. That’s unfortunate but it’s a fact.”

The SDA will be based at the Pentagon and is projected to have about 100 people. Its first job will be to design and architect a constellation of small satellites in low-Earth orbit that will be used for communications and surveillance, what Griffin calls a “proliferated LEO sensor and communications transport layer.” The idea is to use commercially produced satellites and payloads as a foundation for future designs of military constellations that would be more resilient to disruptions or attacks than traditional, larger and more expensive military spacecraft.

  • Jeff Smith

    So Griffin wants his own SDI? Makes sense since he wanted his own Apollo.

  • Robert G. Oler

    a total waste

  • savuporo

    Whats there to debate ? If you like corn dogs, you call Mike !

  • Tom Billings

    The actual debate is over whether House Chair Adam Smith will defend the regulatory scheme developed over the last 60 years for the groups doing US spaceflight. If he doesn’t defend those, he will open himself to charges of “collaboration” with the WH. Without any backers from the unions and the rest of the “Deep State”, when AOC starts her internal witch hunt inside the Democratic Caucus, for those Chairs that “helped re-elect Trump”, he may be glad to only lose his committee Chair.

  • duheagle

    The Deep State and the Legacy Contractors Old Boys Club predictably have their panties in a serious twist over SDA. So, equally predictably, do their sycophants and toadies in the media and the space activist “community,” augmented by people with galloping cases of Trump Derangement Syndrome who might otherwise exhibit better sense. The current USAF secretary is almost out the door and good riddance. Like most of her predecessors, she saw her job as mindlessly pimping for a continuation of the parochial, corrupt and ineffective status quo. Now, it’s up to SDA to show us some moves and begin the process of clearly demonstrating that the rest of the defense contracting/procurement apparat is also in need of demolition and rebuilding.

  • windbourne

    ‘Deep state’?
    You have been way going too far right.