Wes Bush Says Industry is at Crossroads

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Wes Bush Says Industry is at Crossroads National Space Symposium Featured Industry Speaker Wes Bush, Northrop Grumman chief executive officer & president, told the audience that the space industry is at a crossroads, facing a multi-dimensional threat.

Quoting a recent GAO report that found that one in three major defense programs had overruns of more than 50 percent, Bush said the industry is reaching the limits of customer fatigue for cost and schedule slippage. He added that cost overruns and schedule delays are very difficult for Congress and space supporters to defend and explain to their constituents — especially in an austere budget environment, when space projects are seen as increasingly risky and more easily countered, and when capabilities for which many non-space substitutes, such as UAVs, are available. Bush said this combination of increased perception of risk, growth in countermeasures to space systems, increasing availability of non-space substitutes and persistent and chronic cost and schedule slippage makes space project funding very vulnerable.

According to Bush, it is quite likely that the space community will defend itself with old, familiar arguments about protecting the industrial base, program funding, evolutionary rather than revolutionary technology development and so on.

Moving forward, Bush said, there are a number of approaches that should be taken:

  • Refocus the industry on addressing affordability as a core challenge. Traditionally, he said, the space community has treated technical performance as its main challenge, with an array of other requirements and desires forming a second tier of negotiable and non-critical requests. But, he said, affordability is as essential as technical capability. 
  • Turn rivals into partners. Rather than attacking or diminishing substitutes for capabilities that heretofore have been the sole province of space, Bush said the industry must drastically improve integration between the ground, air and space domains.

More broadly, Bush said industry and government must reach across arbitrary cultural and organizational structures with better integration, including integration in concepts of operations. He also said industry must apply strengths and competencies to the way it interacts with the broader non-space community, increasing responsiveness to the needs of systems end-users and purchasers. But, he said, the space community can meet these demands because it can be very candid about the problems that it faces while closely embracing the innovation necessary to address challenges.

This article is part of Space Watch: May 2011 (Volume: 10, Issue: 5).