Space Force’s new head of acquisitions wants to get back to basics

A priority for Frank Calvelli, Air Force assistant secretary for space procurement and integration, is enforcing discipline in procurement programs

WASHINGTON — The Space Force’s new acquisitions manager, Frank Calvelli, says there is no quick fix to problems that have plagued defense procurement for years, such as: B. Cost overruns and delays.

His plan is simple. “We need to make sure we have really good acquisition and contracting strategies upfront. We have to execute and deliver on time,” Calvelli said in an interview with SpaceNews.

Calvelli was sworn in as Air Force Assistant Secretary of Space Procurement and Integration on May 5 new position created by Congress in the National Defense Authorization Act 2020 due to concerns that there are too many agencies overseeing space procurement and the Space Force needs its own civilian leader to keep projects on track.

One of his first moves will be to impose discipline on acquisitions, a skill he learned via a 30-year career with the National Reconnaissance Office, where he oversaw acquisitions of satellite and ground systems.

“A big push for me will be how we set a program baseline right up front so we can actually achieve it,” he said.

A number of Space Force programs are years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget, problems Calvelli believes could be avoided by developing realistic cost estimates and schedules, sticking to the plan, and holding contractors accountable .

Examples of problematic programs that Calvelli says he closely monitors include, but are not limited to the Next generation OCX ground control system for the Global Positioning System constellation and a space tracking system ATLASshort for Advanced tracking and launch analysis system.

ATLAS was designed to replace an old legacy system used to track space objects and is scheduled to become operational sometime next spring, years later than planned. “I know it’s important for both the Hill and him [the chief of the Space Force] General Raymond,” Calvelli said. “So I’m keeping a close eye on that.”

“The infamous OCX program is also scheduled to go live next year. So we’ll keep an eye on that too,” he said.

Calvelli said these setbacks were due to both government mismanagement and contractors not delivering what was expected.

“My first guess is that both the government and industry are to blame,” he said. “It seems like the government is never satisfied with the requirements and they might change them from time to time,” which drives up costs. Again, he pointed to the problem of “not having a set ground plan and schedule.”

It’s not clear in the ATLAS program that there is a baseline or timeline, he said. “And for me that was one of the reasons why we have some challenges. So we have to stay focused. It’s part of that disciplining process where we agree on a set of requirements, contract them out, have a clear plan and execute on that plan.”

There seems to be a lack of discipline, “sometimes both on the government side and on the industry side, when it comes to programs like ATLAS,” he added.

Congressional concerns

The Space Force will need to submit a progress report to Congress sometime next year on what it is doing to prevent acquisition failures. The House Appropriations Committee in a report Accompanying the Fiscal Year 2023 Defense Appropriations Act, the Space Force is directed to conduct “rigorous technical analysis consistent with executable plans funded by realistic budgets.” The current plan, the committee said, “does not live up to that expectation, particularly in terms of aligning priorities within realistic budgets.”

Calvelli did not comment specifically on the HAC report. But he said he wanted to make sure Project managers “finance and finance programs throughout the five-year defense program.” He will also advocate the use of independent cost estimates. “I need my state program managers to proactively oversee and manage their programs.”

On the contractor side, he said, “I need industry to come up with workable proposals. And by that I mean proposals with realistic costs and realistic timelines that they can actually meet.”

“I will tell you from my experience that given the competitive environment, the industry tends to be bullish on schedule and bullish on costs,” he said. If the government accepts these projections with faith, “we end up not establishing the best baseline for implementation.” This puts programs at risk of poor performance or even termination.

“It’s really a partnership with industry,” he said. “We need their help to be successful and we need to do our job by publishing good RFPs [requests for proposals] upfront and good contracts, strategies and incentives.”

“And industry must do its part by giving us actionable proposals and delivering the program to which it is committed,” he said. “That will be my initial area of ​​focus.”

One way to ensure contractors don’t get away with unrealistic proposals is to do this part of the proposal evaluation, Calvelli said. The Pentagon’s independent estimators provide reliable data that can be used to evaluate contractor bids, he said. “And that’s how you make schedule realism and cost realism an important element in any competition.”

“And if the numbers are dramatically lower than what the independent people are saying in terms of cost and schedule, throw those proposals out,” he said.

“The other thing we need to do is communicate with industry to make sure they know we expect these realistic proposals,” he said.

Integration of GPS companies

Calvelli said he’s spent a lot of time reading reports from the Government Accountability Office criticizing the GPS company’s DoD management, and he sees those assessments as cautionary tales.

The GPS company has three segments: satellites in space, the ground control system, and receivers installed on weapon systems and man-portable devices. But each segment is managed separately.

To provide additional security for military users, newer GPS satellites broadcast a stronger signal called M-Code. But despite the greater availability of M-Code, most US armed forces still cannot use the more secure signal due to a lack of compatible user equipment.

GAO has warned the Pentagon for years that it is not making enough M-code capable receiver equipment and that it has been taking too long to install these receivers in all weapon systems.

Calvelli said he plans to address this issue. “We seem to have a disconnect between space and ground systems,” he said. “If we’re late with the space segment and finally launch it when the ground isn’t ready to actually use it, it’s even worse. And so that whole program discipline is really what I really want to focus on.”

The GPS program is an example of where the “integration” part of Calvelli’s work comes into play.

Another is the Architecture of missile warning satellites, in which several authorities are involved. Calvelli must coordinate programs conducted by Space Systems Command, the Space Development Agency, the Space Rapid Capabilities Office, the Missile Defense Agency, and some jointly with the intelligence community.

To facilitate this task, Congress granted Calvelli authority to chair a Space Acquisition Council to oversee, direct, and manage the acquisition and integration of space programs across the national security space enterprise.

“Congress gave me this interesting tool called the Space Acquisition Council,” Calvelli said. “It’s meant to be the integrating forum for the different organizations I control, across the services, to ensure programs are headed in the right direction. And so I have this tool that I have to use.”

Calvelli said smoother integration of programs will help achieve one of his top priorities, which is “increasing the velocity of our acquisitions.”

As the US faces threats from foreign adversaries, it’s important to speed up technology developments and procurement, he said. “Space capabilities give our warfighters a strategic advantage,” he said. “One of the great things about space is that it is a key contributor to air, sea and land. We need to properly integrate space into all aspects of warfare to take full advantage of that.”

use of commercial systems

Another pressing problem in Space Force programs is making systems more resilient to anti-satellite weapons. Raymond and other leaders have called for this Shift in Department of Defense space architecturethe transition from fewer, exquisite satellites to a more diverse, highly distributed architecture; and increased use of commercial space resources to complement national security space resources.

“I really like the diversification of architecture,” said Calvelli. He is particularly excited about the Space Development Agency’s work to bring allarge constellation of missile pursuit and communications satellites in low earth orbit.

“I think it’s really great,” he said of the SDA program. A widespread network combined with some of the more traditional satellites “adds a lot of diversity and resilience to the architecture.”

Leveraging commercial space systems also increases resilience, but the Space Force has yet to figure out how to integrate government and private networks. “I think we really need to have a plan. I’m not sure we’ve developed a vision,” he said. “Having our adversaries not knowing where the commercial end and systems of government begin creates confusion that could be really good for our country from a resilience perspective.”

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