US officially establishes Space Defense Agency

US Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan signed a memo that officially creates the Space Defense Agency.

The memo, signed by Shanahan March 12, immediately delineated the SDA as a new office under the direction of Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin.

The office will be directed by Fred Kennedy, the current director of the Tactical Technology Office, which falls under the purview of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
In the months leading up to the establishment of the SDA, the plan has come under criticism, notably by Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, for adding another organization in DoD that would duplicate the work that already is being done by the Air Force.

Griffin has frequently blasted the Pentagon’s traditional procurement organizations for being slow and bound to “legacy thinking.” But he rejected the idea that the SDA is out to engage in a turf war with the Air Force, arguing that the new agency will fill space technology needs that are currently not being met. “We don’t have the time, the money, the brainpower or the energy to do duplicative things,” Griffin said.

He said he could not comment on why the Air Force fought against the SDA but he also made it clear that Wilson ultimately was overruled by Shanahan. “It took months of process to get the agency created, that’s not the same as saying that everybody agreed. Everybody didn’t agree. That’s unfortunate but it’s a fact.”

The SDA will be based at the Pentagon and is projected to have about 100 people. Its first job will be to design and architect a constellation of small satellites in low-Earth orbit that will be used for communications and surveillance, what Griffin calls a “proliferated LEO sensor and communications transport layer.” The idea is to use commercially produced satellites and payloads as a foundation for future designs of military constellations that would be more resilient to disruptions or attacks than traditional, larger and more expensive military spacecraft.

That is “our first priority,” he said. “We’re looking for a broad set of capabilities.” And he noted that this is not a task that is “being pursued by the Air Force or by anybody else. It’s not a duplicative task. It’s a new thing we’re doing to meet known mission requirements.”

In the March 12 memo, Shanahan describes the SDA’s first project as a “national security space architecture that provides the persistent, resilient, global, low-latency surveillance needed to deter or, if deterrence fails, defeat adversary action.” He noted that DoD “cannot achieve these goals and we cannot match the pace our adversaries are setting if we remain bound by legacy methods and culture.”