Op-ed | DoD falling short on responsive space capabilities

Responsive space is a concept that the United States continues to pursue but has not yet achieved. As Russia and China continue to proliferate anti-satellite technology, and space increasingly becomes a warfighting domain, the ability to rapidly reconstitute our presence in space is emerging as a national security imperative.

Numerous efforts in search of a rapid development, launch, and integration model to achieve this objective have been stood up, only to be stood down. While there have been successful projects demonstrating readily available industry capability, the Department of Defense has not yet successfully institutionalized the imperative of responsive space. 

As Ranking Member of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, I am determined to overcome the problems inhibiting our ability to create a responsive space architecture. 

Two overarching issues occupy most of my thinking on this. The first is the inability of the Administration to consolidate the authority for acquisition and launch decisions. Creating responsive space necessitates integrating existing commercial and defense systems while consolidating authorities the Space Force needs to take ownership of the development and design of space defense. Our work within the strategic forces subcommittee is pushing the Administration and the Department to do just that. Our goal should be to accept design and developmental risks, push timelines shorter, and do so in a way that doesn’t require exorbitant funding. 

The second is the continued lack of requirements driving the need for responsive space capabilities. This requires identifying and understanding what is needed. The Department of Defense must be held responsible for articulating a responsive space architecture.

Recognizing the severity of these two problems, I initiated several efforts in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act to provide solutions. I want to ensure that Space Force leadership can sit at the table with the other Joint Chiefs of Staff and state how they will fulfill our nation’s space needs. In this year’s NDAA Chairman’s mark I included a requirement for the Department of Defense to provide a strategy for launch integration, and directed the Space Force to come tell Congress what it will do with the authorities it is working to consolidate. I also worked to fund the service’s ability to engage in physics-based modeling that will help understand the feasibility of requirements and identify better solutions.

Responsive space capabilities must be accompanied by launch options that provide the right lift capacities with flexibility, as well as the rapid ability to respond with life-extending satellite servicing and maintenance. Critically, we must also achieve cost-effective solutions to move from requirement to operational acceptance. The complexity of responsive space extends beyond launch operations and funding efforts, and involves agile commercial integration of emerging capabilities and ready reserves of satellites to cover attrition and degradation.

I am continuing to push for a better understanding of what the Space Force is doing to incorporate cost-effective commercial solutions. As I have communicated to Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein, commander of Space Systems Command, the Space Force needs to provide contracting methods, leasing agreements, and Indefeasible Right of Use agreements for responsive satellite communications. These provide our military and government options to be innovative, timely, and effective when information matters most. 

This year, I also proposed legislation focused on improving the resiliency of our architecture by building a responsive space architecture, but not at the risk of being irresponsible. 

Responsive space also does not have to mean replacement. Part of the ability to enable agile response should be the ability to quickly repair, service, and upgrade existing capabilities. This must be incorporated into the initial system design to fix what we can when responsive replacement isn’t a reasonable option.

Another solution I have proposed is a request for the Space Force and Space Development Agency to provide a briefing on a plan for using a common launch integration solution. Common launch integration would allow the Space Force to leverage available launch providers to move quickly without having to reconfigure how systems are loaded onto launch vehicles. Instead of waiting on the right rocket, we can respond with any launch vehicle configured with the common architecture. In a similar fashion, this is how the military uses the same weapons on different aircraft.

My focus for the future of responsive space efforts is creating a common understanding of what responsive space means and how to achieve a responsive enterprise. Consolidated responsibility, clearly understood authorities, and articulated requirements are how we are going to accelerate the integration of the Space Force into the joint warfighting construct are essential but are just the beginning. I hope these efforts create opportunities for success, provide the funding efforts our nation needs, and make policy decisions that enhance our ability to compete in space. 

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) represents the state’s 5th congressional district based in Colorado Springs

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