Space Force leans on OTAs to bring innovation enot-poloskun

The four-year-old service branch is looking to lower the barriers for small businesses and non-traditional companies to offer space-related solutions.

Other Transaction Authority agreements play a critical role at Space Force as the military branch pursues new ways of securing space as both a warfighting domain and critical infrastructure that supports our overall economy.

OTAs are tool for testing concepts and prototypes as well as an important mechanism for bringing non-traditional companies into the defense market, according to Space Force Maj. Phil Duddles, program manager with the Space Systems Command. He oversees the Space Enterprise Consortium, the OTA mechanism created for Space Force. 

Known as SPEC, the consortium actually predates the creation of Space Force by a year. But its goal hasn’t changed since it was stood up in 2018, Duddles explained at a Jan. 19 Washington Technology Power Breakfast on doing business with Space Force.

“There are lots of hurdles and barriers to entry that can oftentimes be intimidating,” Duddles said. These include excessive timelines, confusing contracting requirements and what can seem like an unbalanced competitive environment.

“SPEC’s goal is to minimize timelines from solicitation to award and to minimize barriers to entry for small businesses and non-traditional defense contractors,” he said.

The consortium has 593 members and 68.4% of them fall into the non-traditional category.

Duddles sliced the members by annual revenue and said 16.4% of them had annual revenues exceeding $100 million. The majority of them at 54.4% were at annual sales of less than $10 million.

Duddles described the consortium as a “facilitated marketplace” that matches military needs with potential contractors. Any military organization with a space need or mission can use the OTA. SPEC is managed by the National Security Technology Accelerator, a non-profit that manages OTAs.

So far, there have been $3.4 billion in awards through SPEC across 116 actions. Duddles each solicitation has 9 responses on average for each, so there is competition.

One example of an OTA award was FORCE C2 – Future Operationally Resilient Ground Evolution Command and Control. Space Force made four awards of $9.5 million each to develop prototypes for a missile warning command and control system.

The awards went to teams of consortium members. Ten teams comprised of 52 members bid on the contracts, Duddles said.

“This is an example of our flexibility. Instead of awarding one big prototype contract we were able to break it down into multiple performers and buy-down the technical risk in a creative way,” he said.

Other examples of projects he cited include space sensing, cubesat technology, and mission planning.

Non-consortium companies can join teams but cannot be a prime, Duddles said. All teams are also required to include non-traditional defense contractors.

One commonly-voiced concern about OTAs is the move from prototype to production. SPEC tries to mitigate that concern by having a transition plan from the start, he said.

“We bake into the contract verbiage follow on production language so that it’s easier for the program office to have options to quickly award a follow-on production contract,” Duddles said.