SMC 2.0: A Challenge to Industry

SMC 2.0: A Challenge to Industry

Apr 8, 2019


For decades, the United States could claim superiority in space. But times have changed. Our adversaries are openly challenging our access to space and threatening our ability to prevail should conflict enter the space domain. The Air Force is moving ahead rapidly with an initiative that will evolve how it initiates and acquires future space capabilities. Now industry must do its part.

From conference podiums to congressional meetings, Air Force leaders have been sharing their concern about the challenges to U.S. superiority in space posed by our adversaries. In response, the Air Force is transforming the nation’s premier developer of space capabilities, the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), through an initiative dubbed “SMC 2.0.” SMC Commander, Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, succinctly described the factors driving this transformation at MILCOM 2018:

“The Space and Missile Systems Center must adapt in order to maintain our nation’s superior space technical capability. …We’ve got to work better as an enterprise, and we have to be able to shift our cultural mindset. We’ve got to strengthen our partnerships with allies and you, the U.S. space industry. Above all, we’ve got to move faster, and we have to keep our adversaries backpedaling. We’ve got to do more innovative things, and we’ve got to do them more quickly.”

As a former military member at SMC and now the leader of Harris’ Space Superiority and Global Positioning System Programs, 
I have a strong connection with both the center and its mission. I am excited to see how SMC is addressing the initiatives of EPIC Speed—enterprise, partnership, innovation, culture, and speed—to do things quicker and with more industry collaboration.

I also recognize that for there to be true success, industry must be fully on board. And there are some key ways that we can make this partnership successful.

Remove our own stovepipes. One of the goals of SMC 2.0 is to create an overarching enterprise architecture that eliminates stovepipe programs in favor of an integrated portfolio of systems. Through this approach, SMC will reap the speed, cost-savings, and innovation benefits that come from leveraging economies of scale, fostering resource and knowledge sharing, and promoting collaboration.

Companies have their own stovepipes, created by organizational structures and factors like geographic locations, profit centers, customer types, and capabilities. We must find ways to look across our enterprises to fully understand the breadth of our own capabilities, and we must be able to work across stovepipes to create opportunities for our technical experts to brainstorm and collaborate. This will enable us to bring the best of our capabilities to bear for SMC and deliver innovative approaches to the most difficult space superiority challenges.

SMC 2.0: A Challenge to Industry (Operator Screen2)   SMC 2.0: A Challenge to Industry (Operator Screen1)

Accept more risk without being reckless. Space-related programs are generally highly complex. Yet media, politicians, and government accounting functions have not been tolerant of cost overruns, schedule slips, and system failures. Industry, like SMC, has learned to be extra conservative—building more time into schedules and taking additional steps to make sure we get everything perfect the first time. 

But speed has now entered the mix. We must move quickly to get missions and assets into space and space capabilities into the hands of our warfighters. If SMC is willing to accept more risk by developing prototypes and accepting solutions that are “good enough” for today, then those of us in industry must do so as well. Risk management rather than total risk avoidance should be our focus.

Approaches like DevOps and Agile development enable us to develop and deliver in incremental releases. New techniques for collaboration among program team members and among contractor and customer should be explored to reduce the time between concept and completion. We also can be smarter about how we invest our research and development dollars, homing in on where our customers need it most. 

We must consider emerging, less-proven production strategies and materials with the potential to deliver both cost savings and new or enhanced levels of performance. We need to look at what is already available in the commercial marketplace and incorporate it where it makes sense. 

Go fast. For industry, speed also means having established rapid and repeatable processes for activities like proposals and rough order magnitude development. Aligning ourselves with the tenets of the Space Rapid Capabilities Office as it takes shape will ensure we are in lockstep with SMC when it comes to expediting the acquisition process. 

The ability to go fast is also affected by the time it takes to onboard and grow new talent. One of industry’s most formidable hurdles—and one that has significant impact on our customers—is the slowness of obtaining security clearances, even for experienced, previously cleared personnel. We must be proactive on this matter and work with our customers to find solutions that protect classified information while enabling us to move rapidly on work assignments. 

Accept the nontraditional. Through the use of other transactional authorities like the Space Enterprise Consortium (SpEC), SMC 2.0 shakes up the traditional cadence of Air Force acquisitions and breaks down barriers for new players to engage in SMC programs.  It also streamlines the contracting process. The recent Navigation Technology Satellite-3 contract, managed by SpEC, went from white paper to proposal to contract award in only six months. 

Collaborative organizations, like the Catalyst Campus for Technology & Innovation, present another nontraditional avenue for industry engagement. Catalyst Campus brings together small businesses, workforce trainers, startups, and others within Colorado’s established aerospace and defense industry to, in their words, “create community, spark innovation and stimulate business growth.” Traditional defense contractors can sponsor these types of organizations, assign committed professionals to serve as liaisons, and establish mentoring relationships with members to further the goals of these organizations and benefit SMC.

One of humanity’s greatest thinkers, Albert Einstein, said, “nothing happens unless something is moved.” For those of us who serve the space superiority mission, SMC 2.0 has lifted boundaries, changed rules of engagement, and significantly altered the pace of how we respond and deliver the space capabilities that will protect our way of life. Our response to the Air Force? Bring it on!

Chris Forseth is vice president and general manager of Harris’ Space Superiority and Global Positioning System Programs business. Harris provides the full spectrum of enterprise architecture solutions needed to gain, maintain, and exploit space superiority.

Click here to view the entire Harris Space and Intelligence Systems Insights for a Better World  publication.

Credit: Photos, Michael McCool, USAF/Photo Graphics, Trevor Wood, USAF