The Government Accountability Office recommended in a recent report that the Defense Department (DoD) take steps to ensure that the U.S. Air Force develops a “comprehensive acquisition strategy” for its Space Command and Control (C2) program that aims to deliver better capability to protect U.S. space assets from attacks and collisions with space debris.

GAO recounted three previous Air Force efforts over the past three decades to improve space command and control, but said each ended up over budget and under-delivered on key capabilities.

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While DoD concurred with GAO’s broad recommendation on acquisition strategy, the watchdog agency also called attention to the agile software development planned for the C2 project, and questions about how DoD is dealing with what is a “relatively new approach” for the Pentagon.

“The Air Force’s newest effort – called Space Command and Control (C2) – is a software-intensive program that plans to deliver deferred requirements from past programs as well as to develop and field new advanced capabilities through a different approach to software acquisitions than DoD has used in the past,” GAO said.

“The Space C2 program is facing a number of challenges and unknowns, from management issues to technical complexity,” GAO said. It continued, “Additionally, DoD officials have not yet determined what level of detail is appropriate for acquisition-planning documentation for Agile software programs. They are also not certain about the best way to provide oversight of these programs, but are considering using assessments by external experts.”

“These knowledge gaps run counter to DoD and industry best practices for acquisition and put the program at risk of not meeting mission objectives,” GAO warned. “Additionally, software integration and cybersecurity challenges exist, further complicating program development,” it said.

“The Air Force has efforts underway to mitigate some of these challenges in the near term, but until the program develops a comprehensive acquisition strategy to more formally plan the program, it is too early to determine whether these efforts will help to ensure long-term program success,” GAO said.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.