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Research Questions

  1. What streamlining techniques are being used to accelerate USSF acquisition?
  2. What potential risks are associated with those streamlining techniques?
  3. What is the potential impact of these streamlining techniques on mission assurance?
  4. What are potential mitigations?

The U.S. Space Force (USSF) faces potential adversaries that have demonstrated increasingly effective counterspace capabilities. To outpace these threats, the USSF is pursuing rapid acquisition of warfighting capabilities. A key question is whether the acceleration of acquisition by the USSF using various techniques introduces any critical new risks. In particular, do the adaptations and streamlining techniques being used to get new space systems to operators quickly create new (or exacerbate existing) vulnerabilities and challenges to mission assurance (MA) (i.e., the ability of operators to achieve their mission, continue critical processes, and protect people and assets in any operating environment or conditions)?

In this report, the authors identify critical risks to mission assurance created by rapid acquisition, assess the potential impacts of these risks, and recommend possible mitigations. Their findings are based on a review of government policies and literature on acquisition and discussions with over 40 subject-matter experts from the USSF, the Department of the Air Force (DAF), and federally funded research and development centers. The authors identified potential sources of risks, created a framework for managing risks to MA, identified potential mitigation strategies and explored the potential benefit of analyzing DAF data to identify common issues in rapid acquisition programs.

Key Findings

  • Streamlining methods across Space Systems Command (SSC) and the Space Rapid Capabilities Office (Space RCO) share some similarities, but differences are also evident, driven by the urgency of the threat, complexity, organizational and structural resources, and risk tolerance of missions and culture.
  • There are a series of critical risks that need to be addressed by USSF leadership across all rapid acquisition efforts: insufficient alignment and coordination between the acquisition and operations communities, unreliable or inadequately timed financial resources, a shortage of on-site cybersecurity experts and intelligence personnel collocated with program offices, a lag in development of needed test capabilities and infrastructure, challenges in aligning software development life cycles, failure to consider and plan for systems evolution, and alternative requirements processes that may specify capabilities that cannot be acquired on their rapid schedule.
  • The programs using streamlining at SSC are still in the early stages of their life cycles and have not delivered products. Thus, MA outcomes of streamlining are not yet measurable.
  • A new approach to MA is needed for rapid acquisition. MA has traditionally focused on managing technical risk of the individual program, but MA for rapid acquisition should consider trade-offs among multiple objectives — mission capability, reliability, resilience, security, and schedule — to ensure mission success.

Recommendations

  • Expand the MA objectives for rapid acquisition to reflect the addition of new operational and programmatic goals on top of technical system goals.
  • Address the risks associated with rapid acquisition identified in this report.
  • Ensure that processes across the USSF acquisition and operational communities are updated to address the need to onboard capabilities more quickly. As these issues cross organizational boundaries, the acquisition community cannot address all the challenges itself, so other communities, including the requirements and financial management communities, will also need to make some changes.
  • Proactively manage risks to MA associated with rapid acquisition by using a risk assessment framework and management process like the one described in this report to provide a structured way to conceptualize MA from program inception; provide an approach for making intelligent risk trade-offs and choosing courses of action that ensures mission success; and offer an approach to manage risks collectively rather than individually.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Acquisition Streamlining Methods

  • Chapter Three

    Identification of Key Risks in USSF Rapid Acquisition

  • Chapter Four

    Mission Assurance in Rapid Acquisition

  • Chapter Five

    A Framework for Managing Mission Assurance Risks for Rapid Programs

  • Chapter Six

    Conclusions

  • Appendix A

    Snapshot of "Urgent" and "Rapid" Acquisition

  • Appendix B

    Additional Discussion on Streamlining Practices

  • Appendix C

    Additional Discussion on Risks

  • Appendix D

    Background Information on Mission Assurance for Class A–D Missions

  • Appendix E

    Monthly Acquisition Report Risk Reporting and Analysis

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the U.S. Space Force, Chief of Space Operations, and conducted by the Resource Management Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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