April 1, 2009  

Building TSAT

You took exception to the perceived rush by the Pentagon, and the Air Force in particular, in restarting the Transformational Satellite Communications System (TSAT) program with the intent to award the prime contract in about a year [Darts & Laurels, February]. You rightfully note the urgent need for the capabilities TSAT is expected to provide to all branches of the military, and I’m mystified that you would not support a plan that finds a way to provide this system to the war fighter as soon as possible. While it is true that the Air Force has not had a stellar track record historically when it comes to acquiring space systems, each program is a chance to start a chain of successes. TSAT was not, and is not, a descendant of those systems that preceded it from an acquisition perspective. I had the privilege of being part of the TSAT team at Los Angeles Air Force Base for three years, and from the program start there were measures put in place to increase the program’s chances of success.

The acquisition strategy was heavily influenced by Ronald Sega, then-undersecretary of the Air Force and the milestone decision authority for Defense Department space systems. Sega insisted on a crawl-walk-run strategy, and as a result the TSAT acquisition involved technology on-ramps and offramps to ensure the system moved toward operational status without costly delays driven by missed technology readiness levels. Further, the Space and Missile Systems Center has maintained concurrent contracts for more than four years with potential prime contractors to further reduce risk and develop competing concepts for the final TSAT design. In short, the Air Force has hardly rushed through the TSAT procurement process.

Only time will tell whether we in the Air Force have gotten TSAT right, but some program has to be the first in the string of successes, and that can’t happen unless any of them move forward.

Maj. Nick Martin, Air Force Chief, Joint Space Operations

Army Command and General Staff College

Fort Leavenworth, Kan.