We have to maintain national security momentum in space

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In the year since the establishment of the Space Force, we have witnessed the service work to cement its structure, build out its mission, and define its culture. This culture is the most critical and longest lasting element of the Space Force. If its leaders get it right, we will witness a renaissance in space capabilities. If they get it wrong, we will find ourselves stuck with a morass of slow moving bureaucracy, byzantine acquisition processes, and ceding the metaphorical highest ground to China and Russia.

Our institution will launch our latest bipartisan set of national security space program recommendations next week. This report leverages the knowledge and experience of space policy experts from across military, government, private sector, nonprofit, and academic communities. Our goal is to not merely admire these challenges but to produce a series of actionable recommendations that the White House, Congress, and the Pentagon can use to strengthen our national security on orbit.

The onus of getting this right is not on the shoulders of the Space Force alone. While it enjoys the preponderance of resources, it cannot secure our interests in space by itself. It needs coordination and collaboration within and across the federal government. It has to work with the State Department to define the new rules of the road for space, to present our positions on issues like space traffic management and debris mitigation, and to coordinate with our allies on space security and diplomacy. It has to work with the Commerce Department to establish sensible procedures to foster commercial space activity. It must work with the Transportation Department to cement safety issues and launch procedures.

Most importantly, the Space Force and the intelligence community must work more closely with the commercial space sector. This is not simply about buying capabilities but about developing critical partnerships with commercial space providers, matching the speed of innovation with the speed of acquisition. It is about developing the culture within the Space Force which strategically plans for next generation capabilities, rapidly ingests emerging technology, and smartly embraces the risks.

Our exciting and advanced future in space depends upon the decidedly unexciting discussion of acquisition reform. If the Space Force does not address how it does business, the United States will lose its competitive edge in space. When we talk about acquisition reform, we are not talking about simply shaving a few months off a multiyear contracting process. We are talking about fundamentally changing what and how the Space Force, the broader Defense Department, and the intelligence community buy. It means creating pathways for innovative technologies to go from the drawing board to programs of record, rather than allowing such new capabilities for space to die in the acquisition valley of death.

It also means encouraging and embracing competition. We have seen a revolution in commercial space, one that is opening up unprecedented opportunities by reducing the cost of access and operating in space. Yet such structures for looking at space have not concomitantly changed or adapted, and the block buys, multiyear contracts, lengthy and expensive development timelines have to end if we are to succeed here.

It means looking at space as a system and closing the “kill chain” of links in orbit. We cannot afford to view platforms and capabilities in isolation, apart from the broader mission plan, just like we cannot view the Space Force apart from the national security and economic prosperity mission. This necessitates an approach to acquisition that focuses on capabilities rather than platforms. It will allow the commercial sector to innovate new and novel solutions to military problems. It will also assist in sustaining the growth of the emerging space ecosystem, which is a critical development if the United States desires to maintain its competitive edge.

The goal of all of this effort must be nothing less than the establishment of an American led multilateral order with rules for orbit and other planetary bodies. This is no longer the realm of science fiction but is today a matter of diplomacy and military fact. If we fail to define such an order, or allow a different order to be defined for us by either China or Russia, then we will see increased instability that will benefit no one in the future.

Mike Rogers is a former Republican representative Congress who was a chair of the House Intelligence Committee. He is now the David Abshire chair at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. Glenn Nye is a former Democratic representative in Congress. He is now chief executive with the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.

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