4 April 2005
Perfect Harmony?
By Amy Butler, Washington
Aviation Week & Space Technology

 
Four years on, some are reconsidering merger of classified and unclassified space oversight

U.S. lawmakers are demanding a plan from the Pentagon to dismantle a key initiative from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's Space Commission--naming one individual to oversee billions of dollars of space work, including classified efforts at the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the unclassified work of the Air Force space program.

In 2001, the Space Commission issued a number of recommendations to improve integration of classified and unclassified space development and procurement plans, prompting officials to couple the position of NRO director with that of the Air Force undersecretary.

Although industry and government officials involved in the issue all agree an immediate bifurcation is not expected, the congressional directive has sparked heated discussion about the future of "black" space (systems designed and operated by the NRO) and "white" space (systems designed by the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles AFB, Calif., and operated by the Air Force). In question is whether and how the two should be integrated.

The stakes are high, since the military and intelligence communities are each protecting their priorities and requirements amid a leadership turnover and continued congressional efforts to reform national intelligence.

The House Intelligence Committee inserted language ordering a plan to assign a dedicated director to the NRO in the 2005 intelligence authorization report. Its Senate counterpart did not object to the language.

The committees themselves lack the direct authority to actually split the two positions. Lawmakers could spearhead an act of Congress to divide them. Most officials concede, however, that this would be unlikely given the overarching intelligence issues now facing the nation, which share a common theme: better coordination among government organizations providing and using intelligence.

Still, concern from the committee is being taken very seriously and prompting Pentagon and military officials to articulate why they support the existing management structure and continued integration of black and white space.

The opposition has sparked a fiery response from the man who until last month was at the center of this discussion. Peter Teets was sworn in as undersecretary of the Air Force in December 2001, later became the executive agent with funding and procurement oversight for all Defense Dept. space activities and was the acting Air Force secretary after James Roche resigned in January. Teets says he's "on a campaign" to pass on his three-pronged position to his successor. Teets' last day in office was Mar. 25.

After more than three years with three jobs, Teets is retiring to Colorado. An engineer, Teets came to the government by way of industry. He was an executive at Martin Marietta for many years, and he later rose to the top post at Lockheed Martin, the Defense Dept.'s largest private contractor.

Wearing his three hats, Teets was able to oversee the direction of billions of dollars spent annually on space systems by the Pentagon and intelligence community. The white space investment budget alone is roughly $10 billion annually, and its classified counterpart is presumably larger.

Teets acknowledged "hard going" early on in the job, until his National Security Space Office staff was established to foster what he calls "unity of effort" between black and white space efforts. The office plays an overarching advisory role on NRO and Air Force space efforts, and it is awaiting an official Defense Dept. charter to codify these duties. Solidifying the office's mission was one of Teets' unresolved priorities when he left office.

The results of his tenure are mixed.

As NRO chief, he spent a disproportionate amount of time at the Pentagon, effectively reporting to work at the office's Chantilly, Va., headquarters only once a week, according to the House Intelligence Committee's staff. This statistic raised alarm at the committee.

"Is one day a week at headquarters enough?" said one congressional official. "It is not a perfect organization, and because it is not, it needs attention."

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency each have a full-time director, and the congressional official questions why the acquisition and operations arm for the country's classified space systems should lack a leader with a singular focus. Detractors aren't opposed to having the official report through the Air Force chain of command; NRO directors have held a variety of policy slots in the Air Force over the years as undersecretaries or assistant secretaries.

Teets says he gave the NRO as much attention as it needed. "I think it is a manageable job," Teets says, noting he could handle NRO duties from his office at the Pentagon. "I don't think there is a big balance [problem]. . . . Wherever I [was], I [wore] these three hats."

An NRO official agreed, adding that everyone there "knew who was in charge." Teets set a vision for the NRO to clean up its own acquisition problems and improve its systems engineering talent. The NRO's flagship Future Imagery Architecture program has suffered multi-billion-dollar overruns.

"He carrie[d] those three hats with him everywhere. That has been my observation," says Maj. Gen. Robert Kehler, director of the National Security Space Office, which advised Teets on overarching space issues in the white and black space communities. "Don't give me a letter in the morning with this hat on that I have to oppose in the afternoon with that hat on," Kehler said, describing Teets' top-level approach. Kehler will soon take the deputy slot at Stratcom; Lt. Gen. Thomas Goslin is retiring this summer. Maj. Gen. James Armor will then take over Kehler's position.

The NRO was established as a hybrid military-intelligence organization, and is comprised of both Defense Dept. and CIA staff. Skeptics are concerned about further "diluting" the NRO's intelligence contribution by collating management for it in the Pentagon under a chief with two other demanding jobs.

The congressional official warned of organizing the NRO under a larger space czar simply because the black and white programs operate in the same medium above the atmosphere. The Pentagon's aerial assets and resources are not managed by a single organization--Army, Navy and Marine Corps operators buy and use aircraft outside the purview of the Air Force, for example. So why put space resources and operations under one space czar, this official asks.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Daniel Leaf, vice commander at Air Force Space Command, disagrees with this position. He says aerial assets are unified under one commander during operations, and he says the sheer complexity of operating in space demands a special focus.

"This stuff is really difficult," Leaf says. "And it requires unique expertise to get it right. We've seen that in some of the challenges in acquisition development."

The NRO's practices and acquisition authorities are different from those used for unclassified space programs. Because the NRO so often pushes the state of the art, it is afforded the luxury of dispensing with competition and dealing directly with companies that can provide a one-of-a-kind capability. Already, naysayers fear the erosion of those authorities if one person is governing specialized NRO technology development as well as the Pentagon's space acquisitions.

"You don't treat these capabilities like you can compete them and the best one wins," the congressional official said.

Additionally, drawn-out competitions and overly optimistic pricing should not curb risk-taking, a tradition at the NRO that has produced advanced systems. These challenges demand a focus solely on the NRO from a dedicated director, this congressional official argues.

An industry official close to the issues says the NRO does not need a separate director simply to oversee the specialized acquisition system. "The NRO is a very independent organization. And the intelligence community is more independent than the NRO. . . . They operate [under] a different set of acquisition rules," the industry official says. "The culture at the NRO is largely dictated by the intelligence community [which doesn't] have a history of collaboration with the mid-level military."

Supporters of this view say one person at the helm of both organizations will be in a better position to apply lessons across the space arena.

Teets says he never had plans to merge black and white space further. "It is real clear that the charter and the focus of the National Reconnaissance Office is on exactly the mission of national reconnaissance. It is trying to . . . collect information over denied areas on a global basis," he says. "The Air Force is by its very existence a warfighting organization. It is thinking about how to win battles during periods of conflict. There is a very different mentality involved."

One area where Teets was able to balance black and white space priorities was in launch, says an industry official close to the issues. Teets suspended Boeing from bidding for government launch contracts in 2003 after investigators found the company had swiped proprietary Lockheed Martin data during the late 1990s. That suspension lasted 20 months, the longest government suspension in history. Teets also shuffled seven launches from Boeing's Delta IV manifest to Lockheed Martin's Atlas V family. In doing so, Teets was able to collectively reschedule NRO and Air Force launches to send a unified message to Boeing.

The suspension was embroiled in the larger refueling tanker controversy, which is still under investigation by several government entities. A civil lawsuit filed by Lockheed Martin against Boeing over the rocket documents remains unsolved.

"During his tenure, we made the transition from legacy launch to [the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle], and we've done it in the timeframe of the suspension. . . . We exercised a couple of options for Lockheed because Boeing was on suspension for NRO launches. The fact that he could bridge that side . . . is enormously helpful," the industry official says.

Without Teets at the top, program officials may have successfully argued for "expedient" solutions, like transferring fewer launches to Lockheed Martin to avoid switching vehicles. This approach would have compromised the severity of the suspension and undercut the Pentagon's ability to punish the unlawful activity, the industry official says.

Kehler, Teets' national security space adviser, says he sees benefits in continuing to take an "enterprise" approach toward space--including black and white activities. A unified science and technology roadmap, overarching human capital strategy and wider understanding of industrial base issues are some results of this integration, he says.

Better collaboration between the NRO and Air Force is producing the first "dual-use" system for the military and intelligence communities in the Space Radar program, Teets says. Rumsfeld and Porter Goss, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, have signed a joint memo designating Space Radar as the only system of its kind for the country.

"I don't think there is a single satellite right now that is truly dual use," Teets says. "I think this is breaking new ground. I really do."

Officials are planning a 2008 demonstration with two one-quarter-scale satellites. The first full-scale Space Radar satellite would launch in 2015. The constellation would use synthetic aperture radar to collect images through clouds and dust for the intelligence community and provide near-real-time data on moving ground targets like convoys for the military. It is with this collaboration that Kehler says the integration staff can help to make the most of the government dollar.

"Left to its own devices, I think that perhaps we could have had a situation where the NRO pursued a Space Radar system and the Air Force pursued a Space Radar system for different purposes," Teets says. "The NRO has operated as a national agency collecting national intelligence. I think it has only been recently that we've started to really find ways to get intelligence collected by NRO assets into the hands of warfighters direct. I think for a long time it was a huge struggle to get nationally collected information into the hands of the warfighter."

Among the earlier roadblocks were security classifications and the technical complexity of linking various collection and dissemination systems.

Because technology is beginning to provide luxuries like direct tasking or direct downlink to commanders, military officials hope to form innovative operational concepts to get data to the field as quickly as possible in the future without compromising national intelligence priorities.

Data can already be shuffled to commanders once sent to designated ground stations, the detractors say, pointing to processes already in place to task and receive data from intelligence assets. Requirements procedures also already exist in the Joint Staff and Community Management Staff (for the intelligence community), detractors add.

Kehler says that integration is not about subsuming one set of needs into another. "Where requirements diverge, requirements diverge," he says.

Numerous officials acknowledge a strong cultural bias on these issues, and an accompanying fear of change. One government official, pointing to the major space acquisition problems dogging the Air Force's Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles, quipped, "What does white space bring to the NRO?"

Teets acknowledges the ongoing challenges in space system acquisition, both at the NRO and with the Air Force.

He says of the Space Commission, "I think it is natural, four years into the administration, for people to ask, 'How does it look?'" And, very frankly, with the problems we've had in acquisition, there is a natural tendency to say, 'Hey, is there a better way of doing this?' because the results haven't yet materialized in the acquisition world to show that we know how to acquire things on schedule and on cost."

Teets says that before he left his post, he sent a memo to Rumsfeld and Goss detailing why they should maintain the current management structure for space efforts. Their response to the Intelligence Committee's demand for a plan to provide a director dedicated singularly to the NRO was expected late last week.

There is "traction" with Rumsfeld and Goss on this issue, Teets says. "I haven't run into an awful lot of people who seem to push back on the wisdom of doing that."

 


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