Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson Speaks at Space Pitch Day

Opening day of Air Force Space Pitch Day. The two-day event was hosted by the U.S. Air Force to demonstrate the Air Force’s willingness and ability to work with non-traditional startups. The opening ceremony features Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, Space and Missile Systems Center commander, Dr. Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, and Secretary of the Air Force Barbara M. Barrett.

Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson
Commander, Space and Missile Systems Center

Walter Talens
Public Affairs, SMC

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Okay. Thus ends the good news. (audience laughs) I’m standing here in front of 600, 700 people. My boss, my boss’s boss are on the front row. And the first thing I have to do is explain to you all a big mistake I’ve made. Only the United States Air Force. Only the U.S. government acquisition system can come up with the title of an event called Space Pitch Day, and then take two days to execute it. (audience laugh) So I’m standing up here, and before I even start, I have a schedule breach. So I don’t know, boss. Can we do something like a space pitch, daylight savings time?

[Boss] We can say it was a birthday.

Okay. (laughs) Okay. So welcome, everybody, and thanks for joining us at our inaugural Air Force Space Pitch Day. We really look forward to engaging with everybody that’s attending the event, multiple tracks of the event. We have some fantastic panel presentations. They’re happening in the assembly rooms. We have some amazing panelists and some interviews, some keynotes, if you will, that we’ll do right here on this stage. We have an expo that has over 60 different companies, from new space, from small businesses, to medium sized entities that have innovative solutions that the United States space enterprise is interested in taking advantage of. In the audience around you. We have all sorts of luminaries from across the industry. Okay, so we have, and I’ll get to some of the big ones here in a minute, but we have investors here. We have other government agencies here, other services. Others of our mission partners at the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center. People like NRO and MDA, NASA and NOA, those folks that we work with very closely in our nation’s space enterprise, day in and day out. We have panelists that we’ve put together from the new space industry that will be able to talk to some of the initiatives that we’re desperately trying to inculcate into the United States Air Force’s acquisition system so that we can be more innovative so that we can partner with new and different people over time. We also have the brand new, less than three weeks in office, Secretary of the Air Force, Miss Barbara Barrett. Ma’am, thank you for joining. (audience applause) I think it sends a very, very strong message, Madam Secretary, that you’re here today, with this ecosystem of professionals, about how important the space domain is to the United States Air Force and the Department of Defense. So thanks for being here. And then for those of you who are not as familiar with my organization, the Space and Missile System Center, as the commander of the Space in Missile System Center and as the program executive officer for the Air Force for Space, I have two bosses. I have a boss in general, Jay Raymond, who is the Air Force Space Command commander and also the U.S. Space Command commander. And he could not join us here today. But my other boss is here and Dr. Will Roper, who is our Air Force Service acquisition executive and the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics. Dr. Roper, thanks for joining us here today. (audience applause) I have a little bit more on him later, so I’ll hold fire, boss, when I introduce you here in a minute. Okay. So, many, many of you are. How many people in the audience are familiar with the federal acquisition regulation and how the Department of Defense does acquisition? How many wish you weren’t? Okay. Okay. So I think what you’re going to see here over the next two days is the, your Air Force, your United States Air Force trying to do things differently, experimenting, and how we can work closer with the commercial space market, particularly the small businesses in that commercial space market. Gone are the days, those industrial age days, if you will, where organizations are beholden to large programs of record exclusively that execute in mission areas, stovepipes like missile warning or military satellite communications or positioning, navigation and timing. Those are important programs. We have constellations on orbit that, well, let’s just say, have several decades under their belt of supporting the United States military and supporting the United States economy. We can’t just get rid of those, but we have to transition from an industrial age model of acquisition to something more modern. We have to transition to do that because of the threats that we’re seeing from our adversaries. We have to learn how to. Gone are the days where all of the innovation, all of the technology comes from the Department of Defense or comes from the federal government and is transitioned into the commercial sector. We’ve got to figure out new and innovative ways to transition that commercial tech in to and make it dual use and transition it into the Department of Defense’s realm. What do our war-fighters need, regardless of whether they’re executing a humanitarian airlift, or conducting combat operations, or training, regardless of whether we’re deterring a war in space or simply protecting the global commons that is space. We’ve got to figure out how to take advantage of the innovation that’s out there in this ecosystem. Next chart, please. One of the things that we’ve tried to change at the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center is how do we better work? How do we turn ourselves from that hierarchical industrial age model and lay ourselves much flatter? How do we push out bureaucracy and put responsibility, delegating it to the lowest levels of the organization to make it happen? We’ve used the concepts, many of you familiar with it of epic speed to articulate how our new culture will work. E is standing for enterprise. Let’s get away from these stovepipes of mission area. With the way technology is going, with the way that we see the commercial ecosystem developing. We don’t need to have satellites that are completely and totally devoted to one mission area through hosted payloads, through multi-use sensors, through the size, weight and power technology, size, weight and power reductions that we’ve seen in recent years. We can have multi-functional satellites, in different orbits, doing multiple different missions. We need to operate more as an enterprise. This organization, the Air Force’s Space Acquisition Enterprise, has a tremendous history of partnership, partnership with a number of governmental organizations that I mentioned earlier, people that we’ve literally worked with for decades. We have a new and burgeoning partnership effort with a lot of our allies. How do we work with our allies and help them plug into our architecture so that we are stronger together. It’s great having friends around the planet and we have some of the most fantastic allies the world has ever seen. How do we get them to help us in the space domain, confront the adversaries that congested and contested that we see on orbit currently? So we have these areas of partnership with our other government organizations. We have areas of partnership that we’re exploring with many allies. We need to take better advantage of partnerships with the people in this room. We’ve got to have the opportunity to partner with you on commercial tech, on innovation that we can take forward into the future. We’ve got to be able to apply it to our nation’s space enterprise, followed very closely by that is innovation. How do we get more innovative? How do we get out of that model of, Hey, here’s a 400 page requirement. that we will give to the contractor. We’ll give the contractor a billion dollars and we’ll say, See you in seven a half years, please deliver something for us. How do we get closer to an innovation model where something comes up. We look at it, we go, Hey, we have to take advantage of that and then we have to scale it if it’s successful or we have to stop early if it’s not successful. What models of innovation can we take advantage of in the commercial sector to our nation’s benefit? Also, we have to worry about culture. The C in epic speed. Culture. Let’s not be so risk averse. There’s no reason why we can’t fail faster. Let’s delegate things to appropriate level. Let’s worry about schedule. Schedule, not so much cost and performance. Can we quickly field 75 percent or 80 percent capabilities that are value to the war-fighter, or do we really have to wait till they’re 100 percent capabilities and field that four or five years from now? We’ve got to flip that script. And then finally, speed. Speed to market, getting something out there instead of constantly reacting to changes that the adversaries have introduced. Why don’t we make the adversary react to us? The best way to do that, and those of you who are business and small businesses, you know that, is get your capability to the market faster. Make them, make the competition react to you. We’ve got to do more of that. Absolutely. Next chart, please. Okay, so. Next chart. All right, doesn’t matter. I think the next chart just has my name on it. Okay. All right. So we’ve got some special guests here later this morning, 11:30, right in here. I get to do a fireless fireside chat with Elon Musk. And we’re gonna talk about innovation and turning small businesses into large businesses. And so I encourage all of you to be back in here for that event. We have the opportunity over the next couple of days to do a lot of networking. Right, so there’s networking in the expo. There’s networking in here at the breaks. There’s networking at the public pitches. There’s networking in the panel sessions. There’s going to be networking everywhere. In fact, this evening, my guess is that in the cityscape lounge up on the whatever it is, the 46 or 48 floor, there will be even more networking. Okay. We want to make sure that we’re making these connections. Okay. So please, I know the audience is filled with small business people. I’m going to say, please don’t be shy. Okay. So I don’t know too many of you that just look at your shoes and stand in the corner. Okay. But any case, we’re really looking forward to this engagement. We have the opportunity to put to award a number of small business innovation research phase two contracts here over the next couple of days. In fact, myself and Dr. Roper will be up on the stage at the close of business today to tell you how that went in the private pitches that are going on in another area of the hotel. Okay. So with that, let me introduce to you. Okay. So let me set the stage here. 35 years in defense acquisition. Basically, if you look at my record, 35 years I’ve worked with a lot of Service acquisition executives in that time, from the time I was a lieutenant working in a missile program office until through my four different program executive officer assignments, one deputy program executive officer assignment two times as a program director, I’ve worked with a lot of folks. I have never had the privilege of working with somebody who is so innovative and aggressive. Notice I said aggressive, not reckless, aggressive, willing to try new things, putting responsibility at the appropriate levels in the organization, delegating authority to the right level, a constant whirl of energy that is positive, makes my lieutenants, my captains, my colonels, my G.S. 13s, my G.S. 15s walk on water after they go talk to him, they are literally hovering. They are so excited to be able to stand up and address or share ideas with Dr. Will Roper, my boss. And so, Dr. Roper, if you’ll please come to the stage. Your next up sir.

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