The Air Force is applying Facebook's retired 'move fast and break things' mantra to its space programs

Key Points
  • Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson announced new principles and reforms to the branch's space programs Tuesday.
  • The new aim of "building fast and failing fast" is much akin to Facebook's retired "move fast and break things" mantra.
  • Wilson wants the Air Force to put new satellites in space that are resilient, perhaps even to the point of repelling an attack.
We are expanding defendable space and becoming more lethal: U.S. Air Force Secretary

The U.S. Air Force announced new principles and reforms to its space programs Tuesday, largely to increase the speed and capabilities of the military in the fourth domain.

To do so, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and her team are using their own version of Facebook's "move fast and break things" mantra, circa 2012, well known in Silicon Valley.

"If we're going to get to building fast and failing fast, we've got to start doing it in programs that matter," Air Force Assistant Secretary Will Roper told reporters Tuesday at the 34th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Roper was speaking about the Air Force's plans to cut four years off developing the military's next-generation missile warning satellite. Originally scheduled to take nine years to design and produce, according to Wilson, the new plans will use "common" components — meaning more universal — and will not have a "lengthy analysis of alternatives."

This is an overhaul that is "not just about going faster at management," Wilson said. "The biggest barrier to speed … [is] in the Pentagon."

She declared the Air Force must "rewire the paradigms in the Pentagon." Wilson's overhaul of the missile warning satellite program is just one example. Another is the restructuring the Space and Missiles Systems Center, a process expected to take six months.

"These initiatives are a start," Wilson said. "If speed matters, then you need to be thinking about all of the … standards for things to rapidly connect."

Satellites with defensive capabilities

Wilson wants the Air Force to put new assets in space that are resilient, perhaps even to the point of repelling an attack. Amid rising potential threats in space from China and Russia, Wilson and Chief of Staff David Goldfein said "our determination is to be the predator, not the prey."

"We built exquisite glass houses in a world without stones," Wilson said of the 77 Air Force satellites now in operation.

Resilience is key to future Air Force satellites, Wilson said. She wants the military to buy and operate satellites that are less expensive, easily replaced, maneuverable or even capable of camouflage. Goldfein emphasized that the cost-comparison of today's satellites with that of those the U.S. needs to remain militarily superior.

"Change the cost curve so what they have to use to attack [a satellite] is actually far more expensive [than the satellite itself]," Goldfein said.

While Air Force officials never mentioned microsatellites by name, the new and tiny alternatives are both inexpensive and easily built. Goldfein noted the decreasing average weight and size of today's satellites as an exciting trend in the space environment, even while officials did not specify if they were looking at the technology.

Future Air Force satellites are about "being able to take a punch in space," Wilson said. The latest Air Force budget increases spending on space by $7.7 billion over the next five years, a 14 percent rise that Wilson said is "accelerating" plans to become more lethal.

What the Air Force procures "in the future must be defendable," Goldfein said. Both he and Wilson emphasized the dependability of both the U.S. military and the world on space systems.

"The world at large is dependent on space, from getting direction to getting cash from an ATM machine or trading on the stock exchange," Wilson said. "It's time to go farther [in defending space, as] there is much work to be done."