Defense Space Activities:

DOD Needs to Further Clarify the Operationally Responsive Space Concept and Plan to Integrate and Support Future Satellites

GAO-08-831: Published: Jul 11, 2008. Publicly Released: Jul 11, 2008.

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The Department of Defense's (DOD) operational dependence on space has placed new and increasing demands on current space systems to meet commanders' needs. DOD's Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) concept is designed to more rapidly satisfy commanders' needs for information and intelligence during ongoing operations. Given the potential for ORS to change how DOD acquires and fields space capabilities to support the warfighter, this report discusses to what extent DOD (1) is developing ORS to support warfighter requirements and (2) has a plan that integrates ORS into existing DOD and intelligence community processes and architecture. GAO reviewed and analyzed ORS planning documents, the ORS concept of operations, and processes for meeting warfighter needs and also interviewed defense and intelligence community officials who are involved with the ORS concept.

DOD is making some progress in developing the ORS concept, but whether it will meet warfighter requirements is unclear, principally because the concept is in the early stages of development and not commonly understood by all members of the warfighter and national security space communities. Our prior work examining successful organizational transformations shows the need to communicate to stakeholders often and early and to clearly define specific objectives. Since the Joint ORS Office was established in May 2007, it has developed a process for converting warfighter needs into formal requirements and identifying potential ORS solutions. Moreover, DOD issued the ORS Implementation Plan in April 2008 and is also developing new ORS guidance documents. However, GAO found disparity in stakeholder understanding of the ORS concept within the warfighter and national security space communities. This disparity exists because DOD has not clearly defined key elements of the ORS concept and has not effectively communicated the concept with key stakeholders. For example, initial ORS planning documents are broad and lack the specificity needed to guide the ORS concept, according to some members of the warfighter and national security space communities. Moreover, officials from the intelligence community were concerned about DOD's lack of consultation and communication with them regarding the ORS concept. Without having a well-defined and commonly understood concept, DOD's ability to fully meet warfighter needs may be hampered. DOD has acknowledged the need to integrate ORS into existing DOD and intelligence community processes and architecture, but it has not fully addressed how it will achieve this integration. The 1999 DOD Space Policy states that an integrated national security space architecture that addresses defense and intelligence missions shall be developed to the maximum extent feasible in order to minimize unnecessary duplication of missions. DOD plans to begin integrating any new ORS processes or systems that are developed for ORS sometime between 2010 and 2015. However, integrating national security space systems can be a complex activity, involving many entities within DOD and the intelligence community. GAO previously reported that DOD's existing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) processes activities already face significant integration challenges, and adding new ORS systems into the existing ISR enterprise will increase the challenges of an already complex and challenging environment. Given the concept's immaturity, members of the national security space community have raised concerns about how the ORS concept will be integrated with existing DOD and intelligence processes and architecture, and voiced concerns about being burdened by an additional new requirements process specific to ORS. Nonetheless, as GAO described earlier, DOD is developing a process unique to ORS for submitting ORS warfighter requirements. The complexity of the national security space environment calls for DOD to begin to adequately plan integration of the ORS concept now to help ensure that DOD avoids the risk of duplicative efforts and wasted resources.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The DOD Executive Agent for Space should direct the Joint ORS Office, in consultation with U.S. Strategic Command, to define ORS key terms including what qualifies as an urgent need, how timely satisfaction of a need is evaluated, and what Joint Force Commander needs the ORS concept is trying to satisfy.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation. DOD stated that defining the key terms, metrics, and requirements is vital to achieving mission success and the definition of ORS was codified on July 9, 2007. Since GAO's report was issued, US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) has issued Instruction (SI) 54-19, "Operationally Responsive Space," in 2008 and the updated its ORS Concept of Operations (CONOPS) in December 2009. These documents and efforts define key ORS terms and describe the process by which the ORS Office responds to urgent needs received from the Commander, STRATCOM. Also, the updated STRATCOM ORS CONOPS describes the process by which Joint Force Commanders and Joint Functional Component Commanders request urgent needs for ORS capabilities from the Commander, STRATCOM. Taken together, these actions address the intent of the recommendation.

    Recommendation: The DOD Executive Agent for Space should direct the Joint ORS Office, in consultation with U.S. Strategic Command, to establish an ongoing communications and outreach approach for ORS to help guide DOD's efforts to promote, educate, and foster acceptance among the combatant commands, military services, intelligence community, and other DOD organizations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation. In its comments, DOD stated that communicating a clear, concise message to the Combatant Commands, Military Services, intelligence community and others is vitally important to the success of ORS but that burden should not be placed solely upon the ORS Office. Rather, DOD stated that all stakeholders will continue to play an active role in promoting and fostering acceptance of the ORS initiative. Since the issuance of GAO's report, DOD has issued the "Strategic Engagement and Communications Plan for the Operationally Responsive Space Office," which is intended to increase the understanding and interaction of ORS throughout DOD and with non-DOD partners and stakeholders. DOD emphasized the ORS Office's use of routine meetings of the ORS Executive Committee, which is the senior forum to develop and communicate ORS strategies, themes, and accomplishments across the national security space community. The members then use their organic elements to convey the current state of ORS development. Taken together, these actions address the intent of the recommendation.

    Recommendation: The DOD Executive Agent for Space should, in consultation with the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics and the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, and in cooperation with the military services, identify the steps necessary to ensure the integration of the ORS concept into existing DOD and intelligence community processes and architecture as the Joint ORS Office continues its long-term planning of the ORS concept.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation. DOD stated that integration of ORS capabilities into current processes and architectures will depend on the value provided by the current processes and architectures and integration into existing systems will be considered by the ORS Office as a matter of course in the solutions development phase. DOD has stated that under the direction of the DOD Executive Agent for Space, and in partnership with key members of the national security space community, the ORS Office has been integrating ORS concepts into the existing space enterprise as a complementary part of the nation's space architecture. Additionally, DOD emphasized the ORS Office's key personnel assigned from the services and space/intelligence agencies. Over the last three years, the ORS Office and US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) co-sponsored the rapidly deployable space capabilities based assessment (RDSCBA). This resulted in a RDSCBA initial capabilities document (ICD), which describes prioritized ORS capabilities required by Joint Force Commanders. STRATCOM also completed a space support capabilities based assessment in 2009, and the resulting ICD was approved by the Joint Capabilities Board in February 2010. Taken together, these actions address the intent of the recommendation.

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