After becoming law in December 2019, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020 formally established the Space Force as the newest branch of the U.S. military. But a military branch is not created by fiat alone, and the NDAA dictates that the Space Force will be stood-up over a period of 18 months.
Mission and Conception
The Space Force's mission is to protect American and allied interests in space and to provide space capabilities to the joint force. To accomplish that mission, the Space Force is responsible for training and developing military space professionals, maturing the military doctrine for space power, and acquiring military space systems. In many ways, the Space Force is an outgrowth of the Air Force.
As an initial step in the standing up the country's new military branch, the Air Force Space Command was redesignated as the Space Force. During the 18-month stand-up, Air Force space-related personnel will transfer into the Space Force. And in April 2020, 86 graduates from the United States Air Force Academy became the first class of commissioned personnel to join the Space Force. However, the Space Force will not adopt wholesale practices and procedures from the Air Force.
Importantly, the 2020 NDAA requires the Space Force to evolve in one significant area: acquisitions.
Space Force Acquisition Council
The 2020 NDAA established a Space Force Acquisition Council to "oversee, direct, and manage acquisition[s] . . . across the national security space enterprise."1 That statutory language, "across the national security space enterprise," seemingly gives the Space Force Acquisition Council the central role in many aspects of space procurement for the Department of Defense (and potentially for other federal agencies).
The broad scope given to the Space Force Acquisition Council to manage acquisitions "across the national security space enterprise" appears to be a response to criticism that the Defense Department's space procurement was duplicative or redundant. Some industry observers have noted that the process for acquiring space equipment may be very different from the current processes of equipment acquisition for traditional defense.
This leaves many open questions about what military space procurement will look like.
What Will the Space Force Acquisition System Look Like?
As we wait for recommendations and guidance from the Space Force Acquisition Council, we remain curious whether the Council will seek to create a new system for space acquisitions or whether small adjustments to the current system will suffice. Relatedly, we are curious whether the new proposed system for space acquisitions will require legislation or whether the proposed changes may be accomplished at the agency level.
Either way, significant opportunities exist on the horizon for defense contractors and space contractors alike. The most successful contactors will be those who best understand these new and evolving space procurement systems.
1 (2020 NDAA § 9021(c))