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Space Development Agency Approach is 'Constructive Disrupter,' Says Its Director

The Space Development Agency has been incredibly disruptive to the Pentagon's traditional acquisition approach, but in a way that's good for the warfighter, said Derek Tournear, SDA director, who spoke today in the Pentagon.

Tournear called the approach a "constructive disrupter," inspired by and modeled on Clayton Christensen's book, "The Innovator's Dilemma." 

Derek Tournear
Derek Tournear
Dr. Derek Tournear, Assistant Director, Under Secretary of Defense (Research and Engineering for Space), poses for his official portrait in the Army portrait studio at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., May 20, 2019.
Photo By: Monica King, Army
VIRIN: 190521-D-ZZ999-001
"We're disrupting in a way that's constructive for the entire [Defense Department's] space enterprise," he said, noting that the agency has made acquisitions outside of the traditional approach, which means speeding up the process to acquire the best in technological advancements. 

The innovator's dilemma isn't unique to the Pentagon. It happens everywhere in big organizations because once you get things moving in a certain direction, you develop resources, processes and values that become the status quo, he said. 

"Everyone in the Pentagon is a patriot. They want to do the right thing." But sometimes the status quo isn't the right approach, he said. 

The agency has dedicated workforce that is laser-focused on two key elements: site targeting for the warfighters and advanced missile detection and tracking, Tournear said. 

"We're all focused on the mission of delivering those capabilities. Everyone comes to work every day focused on one thing: getting those satellites up and capabilities to the warfighters," he said. 

A rocket launches into dark blue, cloudy sky.
Falcon Launch
A Falcon 9 rocket launches from Space Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., May. 6, 2022.
Photo By: Joshua Conti, Space Force
VIRIN: 220506-X-KD758-1002

Tranche 0 is now operational with 27 satellites in orbit, using Link 16, which is communications gear used by the warfighters in the United States and NATO. That's a big achievement, he said. 

This year begins Tranche 1 with about 160 satellites planned for launch, followed by Tranche 2 with about 300, Tournear said.

There are a lot of proposals from industry from companies not well known for Tranche 2. That speaks to the market's healthy driving force for the defense space industry, he said. "I was surprised by the number of proposals that we saw." 

There are always people in industry that say to the department, "You know, if the prices go up, you can get more capabilities." However, technological advances have driven the prices down and vendors are getting in line with DOD's price-point targets, which ultimately save taxpayer dollars and add capability for the warfighters, he said.

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