The House and Senate Intelligence Committees asked the DCI to preparb this report in order to investigate the feasibility of shifting to smaller satellites in our space- borne reconnaissance assets. We were not advocating a particular system or optimum size; we wanted to know if such a move would be feasible, either for research, development and testing, or to begin building. The panel's views are quite clear:
The most important judgment of the Panel is that now is an appropriate time to make a qualitative change in the systems architecture of the nation's reconnaissance assets. These changes should affect the distribution of spacecraft functions, how space reconnaissance systems are acquired and how they are operated. Several factors argue for these changes now ....
We believe that industry is prepared to produce this kind of system [a satellite 20-25% lighter and with one-half the capacity of currently planned systems] and do not believe that a technology demonstrator is needed to assure ourselves it can be done.
The Panel believes we can move to satellites that are smaller, cheaper and as capable. Such an array of satellites would also be more robust and more flexible, and better able to accommodate new technologies more quickly. They also note that the Intelligence Community can exploit technologies that are available in the commercial industrial base.
The Panel also notes that a great deal of follow-on work and study needs to be done as we begin a transition to smaller satellites. I agree. Our reconnaissance capabilities lie at the very heart of our national security. Changes, especially revolutionary ones, should only be made after the most careful consideration. I believe that the Panel's report has gotten us off to an excellent start. I am excited by the prospects suggested in the report and look forward to taking an active role in shaping our next generation of intelligence collection systems and to the debate that the release of this report should generate.
The Honorable Larry Combest
Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
United States House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Mr. Chairman:
In compliance with direction contained within the FY 1996 Intelligence Authorization Act, I constituted the Small Satellite Review Panel and provided their classified report to you in early May. At the request of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, a declassified version of that report has been prepared. This version contains the great majority of the material prepared by the Panel. I trust that this report more fully meets Congressional requirements with respect to the issue of small imagery satellites.
As you know, I have directed the National Reconnaissance office to conduct a detailed review of alternative, affordable imagery architectures taking into account the recommendations of the Small Satellite Review Panel. This effort will be completed. in August. In addition, I have asked the Small Satellite Review Panel to remain available to advise me on several issues, including its assessment of the aforementioned NRO architecture effort, engaging industry on the "new business practices" suggested by the Panel, and providing technical and programmatic advice on the "first step" satellite program recommended by the Panel.
Identical letters are also being sent to the appropriate Congressional Oversight committees.
A Panel was convened as you requested. As Chairman, I conducted some preliminary discussions with members of the Intelligence Community with the assistance of Marty Faga. Preliminary briefings and materials were provided to the other six Members prior to our plenary session. One two-day, plenary meeting was held on April 24-25 and is the primary basis for this first report. The intention of the Panel is to provide our best early judgments on those issues which would affect the use of FY 96 funds and the construction of the FY 97 Budget by the Congress. Given the short time available, there were many issues and details which the panel could not fully address but we were able to identify a rather significant set of points on which we could agree.
The technology and industrial capabilities of the country permit the creation of effective space systems that are substantially smaller and less costly than current systems. We see the opportunity to move towards an operational capability for the country, at least for imagery systems, that consists of an array of smaller, cheaper spacecraft in larger numbers with a total capacity which is at least as useful as those currently planned and to transport them to space with substantially smaller and less costly launch vehicles.
We see the opportunity to exploit the growing commercial industrial base to access a broader set of technologies and industrial capabilities. The acquisition practices needed to access these commercial capabilities should be more efficient and in line with other acquisition reform and commercial practice -initiatives across the government.
The security environment can and should be adjusted to facilitate the application of commercial capabilities and ease the exploitation of the system products.
The Imint Directorate, which is responsible for the current systems, advocates a new generation of imaging satellites. Individual spacecraft would be only half the size and cost of the current and planned versions. A plausible transition plan was displayed which could be accomplished without any near-term funding increases. It was a thoughtful advocacy which appeared sound and would be an improvement over current plans.
The Office of Special Applications advocates a greater departure from today's style of operation with more, smaller, less costly, and individually less capable spacecraft and a new ground environment. The spacecraft weights were more in the order of 20-25% of current systems with each of the smaller satellites having about one-half the capability of the individual satellites in the currently planned large satellite constellation. A mix of several types of spacecraft would provide the full capability.
Several commercial space imaging companies also presented their designs and business plans. Their performance characteristics were not as great as the NRO proposals and would not satisfy many of our core information requirements. However, their system attributes are relevant, will clearly provide useful images and their prices were lower. These inputs were useful to our deliberations.
The Panel's judgment is that smaller is better for the reasons outlined below and can be implemented while satisfying the critical needs of the country. We believe that sizing the satellites in the 20-25% weight class each with 40-50% of currently planned capability is a better concept than current plans or the 50% weight class presented by the Imint Directorate. We do not believe that our key needs can be met by the products of the current commercial space imaging companies.
A specific set of requirements parameters was used in the Panel's consideration of satellite alternatives.
Although the Panel has not yet resolved for itself a complete, objective architecture and implementation plan, it believes that investment now in a smaller satellite is consistent with any likely outcome.
We believe that industry is prepared to produce this kind of system and do not believe that a technology demonstrator is needed to assure ourselves it can be done. The investment might best be considered an operational prototype which would be expected to demonstrate operational utility and be the basis for developing operational procedures but which must also bear the full burden of satisfying operational needs.
The panel had little opportunity to deal with the question-o-f ground architecture but agrees that the new system should allow for operation with a new ground environment and not be dependent on the current ground environment. However, we recognize there is a large investment in the installed ground system base which should be drawn upon as appropriate.
The Panel did not have time to do a complete financial review to determine with precision its recommendations on how to fund this investment. However, this is an important first step for the enterprise and we believe it can and should be initiated within any level of resources planned for the whole operation. It is our recommendation that funds appropriated for small imagery satellites in 1996 be applied to this objective and that adequate resources be included in subsequent years.
We did review our recommendation with respect to the Congressional direction on the costs of any system to be built. It is our judgment that the first step we recommend will not likely he achievable within the constraints of the Congressional language. We further believe that to be constrained by the Congressional funding limit specified in 1996 for the complete range of functions including total spacecraft, launch, operations, ground processing and dissemination are unrealistic for the requirements baseline which we assessed, and which we are convinced constitute a good minimum capability.
A substantial segment of the companies which now make up the industrial base upon which the NRO depends are investing with others in commercial satellite imaging ventures. If at least some of them are successful, they will create new industrial capabilities and new systems capable of delivering products of value for our information needs. In addition, the commercial communications sector is investing heavily in systems which involve large numbers of smaller satellites. Taken together, they will create a new base of industrial capabilities, components, systems skills and useful products which should be exploited by the nation for its national security needs.
To take advantage of the trends in the industrial sector, the government must revolutionize the way it contracts for goods and services. It must move to the application of commercial business practices. This includes the acquisition of routinely available products on a price-for-value rather than a cost-for-requirements basis. This is a desirable move in any event but made necessary to permit contracting with commercial industries who will not comply with the governments unique acquisition requirements.
Also, if successful, these businesses will be routinely capable of delivering imagery products with resolutions ranging from one to four meters. The government should encourage satisfying as many of its needs in this resolution range as possible by using these products to reduce the investment necessary to satisfy its unique and more demanding needs. The government should consider issuing a policy and developing a mechanism which would facilitate a more effective match between -legitimate users and commercial providers. Such a policy statement might clarify the business perspective for these emerging commercial businesses and enhance the prospects of having some routine image needs satisfied without government investment.
In conducting these studies, the Panel believes the following points should be considered.
Bob Hermann, Chairman