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Research Questions

  1. What is the overall vision of the clean sheet approach for USSF?
  2. What are the challenges of the past and current DoD space acquisition?
  3. What acquisition approach should USSF adopt to ensure the timely availability of necessary capabilities?

The United States' newest military service, the U.S. Space Force (USSF), has a unique opportunity to take advantage of the widening range of commercial capabilities and create a new culture and new management processes to respond to the growing challenges presented by potential adversaries in space. To support this effort, USSF leadership asked RAND Project AIR FORCE to develop a "clean sheet" acquisition approach designed around the unique mission and calling of the new service. The recommendations in this report derive from a literature review and interviews with more than 45 current and retired senior leaders and space acquisition experts. The authors' clean sheet vision recognizes that potential adversaries are increasingly investing in space capabilities and that the pace of commercial innovation is increasing. USSF relies on space technology as a foundation to develop and sustain its joint warfighting capabilities and thus needs an acquisition approach focused on ensuring that the required capabilities are available when needed. To be effective in this context, acquisition processes must be rapid, agile, and, above all, threat-informed. The authors offer a new clean sheet acquisition vision for the technology-centric USSF—acquisition as a warfighting capability rather than a support function.

Key Findings

The establishment of USSF offers an opportunity to create a new, more responsive approach to space acquisition.

  • This new approach depends on USSF developing a culture of risk tolerance and agile and responsive enterprise decisionmaking.
  • The culture must be fueled with select personnel inculcated with USSF's goals.
  • This approach presents a chance for increased access and partnering with industry to accelerate technology insertion into systems.

Several features of USSF set it apart from other U.S. military services

  • USSF will be significantly smaller than any other service and will have fewer people for processes that traditionally have been manpower intensive.
  • A smaller service offers the opportunity for increased agility and the reduced bureaucracy resulting from a flatter organization and a shorter chain of command.

USSF is highly reliant on technology, even more so than other services

  • USSF uses technology to develop and sustain its joint warfighting capabilities.
  • This dependence on technology necessitates USSF having a close, trusting, collaborative relationship with industry.
  • A service with technology as a foundation for warfighting warrants an acquisition approach focused on ensuring that the required capabilities are available when needed—therefore, the processes must be rapid, agile, and threat-informed.


  • USSF should remove the seams traditionally separating operators and acquirers so that all understand both technology and operations.
  • USSF should create an adaptive technical architecture, based on warfighting doctrine and concept of operations, to provide a framework for decisionmaking and countering the threat and a road map for innovation.
  • USSF should establish a single space acquisition decisionmaker for flexible management of the enterprise—focusing resources on the highest priorities, driving capability synchronization, and radically delegating to empowered subordinates.
  • USSF should ensure that it has a workforce consisting of experts who are cultivated through selective recruiting, assignments, training, and promotions to be risk tolerant, flexible, collaborative, and enterprise-focused.
  • USSF should build internal and external outreach mechanisms, including information-sharing and metrics, that emphasize strong relationships and mutual trust within and across the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Department of Defense, USSF, the Intelligence Community, other federal agencies, and industry.
  • USSF should foster a trusting, collaborative relationship with industry—for example, by providing industry with a technology road map that includes (1) innovation on-ramps to accept emerging technology or address changing threats and (2) divestiture off-ramps for obsolete capability.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) and conducted within the Resource Management Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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