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Research Questions

  1. How many contractors support Air Force space missions?
  2. How do these contractors contribute to operational space capability?
  3. Does the Air Force understand the current readiness of the contractors that contribute to space missions?

In the past, the space domain was treated as a sanctuary — there was little emphasis on warfighting or tracking readiness to do so. But today the U.S. military and the Air Force expect a contested, denied, or operationally limited space environment, and it is important that all contributors to space operations — military, civilian, and contractors — are trained and ready to face these challenges. The Air Force has systems to track the readiness of operational military units, but no equivalent readiness information exists for contractors and the missions they perform to support space operations.

The authors of this report reviewed contractor personnel tracking in Air Force databases, examined contractor information for two Air Fore Space Command (AFSPC) squadrons, and interviewed subject matter experts within these two squadrons and at Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC). The authors find that contractors contribute substantially to Air Force space mission, and they provide recommendations on how the Air Force can better monitor the readiness of these personnel.

Key Findings

  • Contractors contribute substantially to Air Force operational space missions, and AFSPC has the largest proportion of contractors across all Air Force major commands.
  • Contractors constitute 25 percent of the AFSPC-identified Space Cadre, and 17 percent of personnel across all space operations groups.
  • The Air Force lacks a definition of contractor readiness for these contractors and lacks a process for tracking the readiness of capabilities provided by contractors.
  • Contractors' performance is tracked by SMC using acquisition and contracting tools and compliance constructs.
  • The operational military hierarchy is unaware of the readiness status of the capabilities contractors contribute to space operations.
  • Contract management falls outside the operations' chain of command.
  • Responsibility for tracking contractor numbers falls outside of both operations and contracting chains of command.

Recommendations

  • Develop specific operational reporting criteria for contractor readiness.
  • Incorporate contractor readiness information into operational reporting and personnel/ resource accounting.
  • Improve personnel reporting by considering manpower needed to support the Space Mission Force and an integrated personnel picture by including component and contractor contributions.
  • Examine more units across AFSPC and the Air Force to test these findings more broadly.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Contractors in Space Operations: How Many? Supporting Which Missions?

  • Chapter Three

    Contractor Performance Reporting: Does It Track Readiness?

  • Chapter Four

    Conclusions and Recommendations

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by Brigadier General David Mineau, Director, Current Operations, Headquarters Air Force, and conducted by the Strategy and Doctrine Program within RAND Project AIR FORCE.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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