Military transformation as currently interpreted relies heavily on next-generation satellites to provide U.S. forces with advanced reconnaissance, communications, and navigation. However, the performance of the technology and manufacturing bases supporting production of nationalsecurity satellites declined in the years following the collapse of communism. The purpose of this study is to determine whether the technology and manufacturing bases are capable of supporting transformation plans for space.
Satellites built for military and intelligence missions are among the most complex systems ever devised, often requiring 20 years to progress from initial research to full operational status. The technology base for national-security satellites is scattered among a variety of public and privatesector organizations, most notably the major aerospace companies and federally-funded R&D centers. The manufacturing base is concentrated in the private sector. Although key skills are fungible across a range of aerospace activities — civil, commercial and military — the workforce engaged in designing, developing and integrating national-security satellites is small, totaling about 100,000 personnel.
The biggest problems facing the national-security space sector are unplanned cost growth, program delays and inability to meet performance goals. These problems are caused mainly by decisions and behavioral characteristics of the federal government, which is the sole source of demand for national-security satellites. Because companies in the sector depend on federal funds for their survival, their operating practices generally reflect the incentives and expectations imposed by the government customer.
Some of the sources of sector problems are structural in nature, and thus beyond the capacity of policymakers to change. These include the government’s decentralized decision processes, the mismatch between developmental and political cycles, the uncertainty about future needs, the uniqueness of requirements, and the imposing technology hurdles those requirements present. However, other sources of difficulty are the result of bad policies, which lead to unrealistic cost estimates, excessive performance requirements, schedule slippage, poor management and high workforce turnover. The Bush Administration has moved to correct many of the policy-related problems.
Workforce trends are a perennial concern in the space sector. Some of the factors limiting recruiting and retention of skilled personnel are structural in nature, such as the need for security clearances, the variability of demand, and changing military requirements. But federal policies also impede recruiting and retention, particularly those contributing to destructive competition, uneven program pacing, inadequate compensation and burdensome security procedures. Problems with the private-sector workforce can be largely resolved by addressing these issues, but deficiencies in the public-sector workforce are more deeply rooted.
Despite government efforts to improve the performance of the technology and manufacturing bases, it is not clear that transformation plans can be accomplished in a timely and cost-effective manner. The sense of urgency and discipline that prevailed in Cold War years is largely gone, and there is little continuity or consensus among key federal players concerning goals in space.
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