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Let Space Development Agency Flourish as 'Constructive Disrupter'

spacex crew dragon spacecraft under construction

The Crew Dragon spacecraft is seen under construction in a clean room during a media tour of SpaceX headquarters and rocket factory on August 13, 2018 in Hawthorne, California. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Henry F. Cooper By Thursday, 18 June 2020 09:34 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

The June 15, 2020 Space News carried the most hopeful article that I've read in years, that we may develop and deploy truly effective space defenses!

Derek Tournear, Mike Griffin, and Lisa Porter aptly titled their very important article "The Space Development Agency must be a constructive disrupter!"

They persuasively explained why the Space Development Agency (SDA) must be allowed to operate outside of the Pentagon’s legacy acquisition systems until it has had time to innovate, flourish, and deliver — particularly in providing the nation’s future civil and military space systems.

To be truly effective, a Space Force requires more than a new military service that just rearranges the longstanding players on the field — it requires new innovative players to compete with other nations committed to achieving a dominant role in space — and, as I have argued previously, with whom we are playing "catch-up" as these authors also well understand.

The Pentagon spends billions and takes well over a decade to develop and deploy its major satellite systems. For example, the Air Force is still trying to build a space-based sensor system conceived over 30 years ago, before my watch as Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) Director.

Make no mistake, our ability to provide needed warfare capabilities depends on acquiring and maintaining superior space systems to identify and defeat threats that modern technology will surely enable.

And their threatening capabilities are growing.

As Defense Secretary Mark Esper recently stated, "dominance in space will require a whole-of-government approach to maintain U.S. technological superiority and leadership. This means we must out-compete, out-innovate, and out-hustle everyone else."

I believe Secretary Esper's well justified objective requires space-based interceptors, not only to serve as a sensor adjunct to ground-, sea-, and air-based interceptors, as is currently planned to counter the hypersonics threat.

Our budding Space Force needs an enterprising and innovative spirit to build affordable, effective space systems to defeat already evident threats to all we hold dear. That would meet the SDA "disruptive" challenge described by Tournear, Griffin and Porter!

They describe this approach as "disruptive" because the SDA is intended not to employ the Pentagon’s usual stagnating acquisition process.

On my SDI watch, I bitterly complained in writing to the Pentagon’s top Acquisition Executive as we overcame the gauntlet of administrative hurdles (involving numerous reviews by a myriad of Pentagon officials and a room full of their review reports) — to initiate the demonstration and validation (DemVal) phase of the formal acquisition process for the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.

I was not surprised when Israel deployed its Arrow system a decade before THAAD even though they both began at the same time, on my SDI watch. I was pleased to attend a celebration of Patriot’s operational deployment at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, while THAAD was being chastised by Congress and given another development chance after numerous delays and test failures. Its operational capability was eventually achieved —after the Pentagon’s usual fits and starts.

Hopefully, the SDA can adopt a process more like the Israelis — since we are playing technological catch-up, especially with China, in "militarizing space."

The SDA should adopt the approach of President Reagan’s SDI, which I was privileged to lead, after defending it to the Soviet negotiators in Geneva — where we gained enormous negotiating leverage from its widely publicized technological advances against which the Soviets could not compete.

As Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said when we hosted her to review our SDI progress in Colorado Springs in 1990, "SDI ended the Cold War without firing a shot."

The Soviets knew that our technology was real during the SDI era (1983-93). So, they sought to end the competition. They got their wish when the Clinton administration "took the stars out of Star Wars" as Defense Secretary Les Aspin boasted in early 1993.

Neither Democrat nor Republican administrations have yet revived the SDI pace.

Russia and China well understand that fact, and their technological advances now threaten us. SDA can reverse this history.

Russia and China no doubt will oppose SDA’s "disruptive approach," just as the Soviet Union opposed Ronald Reagan’s SDI during the Cold War — and no doubt the "arms control" community will oppose our advances in space just like during the SDI era.

As previously argued, the "powers that be" must resist this arms control siren call and help the SDA rapidly make up this inherited deficiency and advance President Trump’s Space Force.

Meeting this challenge is urgent as our envoy Marshal Billingslea begins arms control talks with Russian and Chinese counterparts.

Meanwhile, we should exploit advancing technology in the private sector, as SpaceX demonstrated in placing American astronauts in orbit to join others on the International Space Station — as a stepping stone to return to the Moon, on the way to the first mission to Mars.

Since the Shuttle was retired in 2011 — until the recent SpaceX launch, we relied on Russian technology to carry our astronauts into orbit.

This was the first new U.S. launch since Shuttle’s 1981 mission.

Marc Thiessen applauded this SpaceX’s achievement in his June 1, 2020 articel in The Washington Post, "SpaceX’s success is one small step for man, one giant leap for civilization," a paraphrase of Neil Armstrong’s famous comment to the World as he took his first step on the Moon. Thiessen’s reference to the “giant leap for civilization” pointed to the benefits of our private sector as compared to the government’s lethargy.

This SpaceX mission exploited another important technological achievement, one that began with President Reagan’s SDI and is now common practice for SpaceX. About nine minutes into its mission, after launching the astronauts toward orbit, the Falcon 9 booster returned to Earth, landing upright on a "drone ship" in the Atlantic Ocean, in what has become routine to "stick" a landing.

That rocket now can be refurbished and reused, significantly lowering the cost of getting to orbit. Simply stated, it is cheaper to reuse an old rocket than to build a new one.

This idea was first demonstrated by the Single Stage to Orbit (SSTO) SDI effort, and now is proving it is cheaper to reuse rockets than to buy new ones.

As Thiessen argued, such innovation is making America a leader again. And as I wrote a year ago, SpaceX is now clearly demonstrating it has an opportunity to revive the best of the SDI era!

Last week, SpaceX launched another 60 Starlink internet satellites into low earth orbit, increasing the total number of internet satellites to nearly 500.

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, this week announced his plans for additional launches every couple of weeks for the rest of the year, intended ultimately to provide worldwide coverage.

The first stage landed upright at sea to "top off" the mission by "sticking" that rocket for its fifth consecutive landing — to be prepared to support more future launches.

This is the kind of technology and innovation that the SDA should pursue to build key Space Force systems. In particular, the Space Force should include a modern Brilliant Pebbles space-based interceptor system — the most cost-effective ballistic missile defense (BMD) system considered by the SDI efforts, based on technology available in the 1980s-90s.

That effort exploited technology then existing in the private sector. With today’s technology, SDA can build a modern Brilliant Pebbles for even less expense—as I have long argued.

During the SDI era, the top Pentagon acquisition authorities estimated that about $20 billion in today’s dollars could develop, deploy and operate 1000 Brilliant Pebbles for 20 years. Should be less today!

That’s a worthy challenge for SDA to beat as a Constructive Disrupter! You think?

Ambassador Henry F. (Hank) Cooper, Chairman of High Frontier and an acknowledged expert on strategic and space national security issues, was President Ronald Reagan's Chief Negotiator at the Geneva Defense and Space Talks with the Soviet Union and Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) Director during the George H.W. Bush administration. Previously, he served as the Assistant Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Deputy Assistant USAF Secretary, Science Adviser to the Air Force Weapons Laboratory and a USAF Reserve Captain. In the private sector he was Chairman of Applied Research Associates, a high technology company; member of the technical staff of Jaycor, R&D Associates and Bell Telephone Laboratories; a Senior Associate of the National Institute for Public Policy; and Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees from Clemson and a PhD from New York University, all in Mechanical Engineering. Read Ambassador Cooper's Reports — More Here.

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The Space Development Agency (SDA) must be allowed to operate outside of the Pentagon’s legacy acquisition systems until it has had time to innovate, flourish, and deliver — particularly in providing the nation’s future civil and military space systems.
sda, pentagon, spacex
Thursday, 18 June 2020 09:34 AM
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