Air Force’s Kendall Creates Space Acquisition Office, Accelerates Absorption of Space Development Agency

Frank Kendall presents a keynote address at the 2014 Air Force Association's Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition Sept. 17, 2014, in Washington D.C.

Frank Kendall presents a keynote address at the 2014 Air Force Association's Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition Sept. 17, 2014, in Washington D.C. Michael J. Pausic / U.S. Air Force

And the new service secretary is asking Congress to allow him to move faster yet.

New Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall is accelerating plans to bring the military’s satellite- and rocket-buying responsibilities under one roof.

Kendall announced that he has established a new space acquisition office and that he is speeding up plans to absorb the Space Development Agency, an Office of the Secretary of Defense organization that plans to buy hundreds of satellites in the coming years.

“While SDA may not yet firmly be part of the department of the Air Force, there is no reason why we shouldn’t begin to move aggressively in that direction,” Kendall said Tuesday during his first public speech at the Space Symposium, an annual gathering of military, civil and commercial space professionals in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The moves announced by Kendall—who as Air Force secretary oversees the Air Force and Space Force—speeds up plans that were already in place to stand up the new acquisition office and absorb the Space Development Agency by October 2022.

“We are hopeful that Congress will give us the option to move more quickly in this year's authorization,” he said.

Kendall said he is “actively looking for candidates and I have a short list of potential nominees” to run the space acquisition office. Until a nominee is confirmed, Darlene Costello, the acting assistant Air Force secretary for acquisition, will also serve as the acting space systems acquisition executive.

Brig. Gen. Steve Whitney has been named the military deputy in the space acquisition office, Kendall said. Whitney was previously the director of space programs within the Air Force acquisition office.

Shawn Barnes, who was overseeing the Air Force’s space policy office, which became the space acquisition office, is now the director of financial management in the Air Force’s Legislative Liaison office.

As for the Space Development Agency, Kendall and Heidi Shyu, the defense undersecretary for research and engineering, have established a working group “that will plan for and expedite the transition” of the Space Development Agency to the Air Force. Shyu oversees the Space Development Agency.

“[W]e're going to step it up a notch as we move closer to bringing SDA into the Air Force,” Kendall said.

The changes announced by Kendall Tuesday give a glimpse into how the Biden administration will put its stamp on the military’s newest branch, which the Trump administration championed and eventually created in December 2019. 

“My approach to...any reorganization, is to move quickly to get the big parts right, but be prepared to make adjustments as one learns from experience,” Kendall said. “I think we have gotten the big parts right, but we should expect to make some changes as we learn from real time execution.”

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