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Future Imagery Architecture [FIA] - 2002 Restructuring

A reprogramming of about $625 million [and possibly as much as $900 million] from other intelligence programs in 2002 was intended to get the program back on schedule. Imagery coverage would be maintained without interruption, and the tradeoffs are not as bad as a gap in imagery coverage. Some reports suggested that the satellites under development are much heavier -- and thus more expensive -- than Boeing originally proposed. Initially it was reported that the FIA satellites were much smaller than anything else NRO has done, and the capability was better than anything NRO had done.

In the Authorization for fiscal year 2003, passed in November 2002, the Congressional conferees remained very concerned about the viability and effectiveness of a future overhead architecture, given the apparent lack of a comprehensive architectural plan for the overhead system of systems, specifically in the area of imagery. For example, the conferees believed the administration was facing a major challenge in addressing technical and funding problems with the Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) program that could force untenable trades between critical future capabilities and legacy systems.

In the November 2002 conference report, the conferees addressed the known FIA problems as well as the need to develop imagery alternatives if developmental problems exist or persist. The conferees noted, however, a continuing pattern by which many individual programs have been justified and provided resources with little or no regard to the entire set of IC collection capabilities, including space-based and airborne. The conferees believed that, although individual systems may have specific merit, the real measure of merit is in what the overall collective mix brings to bear against the range of threats to U.S. national security. Moreover, the ability to fund all legacy, developmental, and desired systems had a finite limit. Therefore, there was a critical need to review each program in the context of the others, so that viable trades can be made based on substance, and long-term funding of healthy programs can be provided.

In May 2003 the Defense Science Board / Air Force Scientific Advisory Board Joint Task Force on Acquisition of National Security Space Programs found the FIA program under contract at the time of their review to be significantly underfunded and technically flawed. The task force believed that the FIA program - thus structured - was not executable. The task force concluded that the FIA deficiencies can be mitigated sufficiently to permit the program to continue. It suggested that program funding should be increased to the level of a most probable (80 percent) cost. It noted that significant program and schedule changes would be required to increase the probability of mission success. An independent review should be implemented to assess the adequacy of the restructured program. The Task force made the same recommendation for FIA as for SBIRS High - validate the results of past engineering and testing activities.

A space program has requirements, a budget, a schedule, and a launch vehicle with its supporting infrastructure. The launch vehicle limits the size and weight of the space platform. These four characteristics establish boundaries of a box in which the program manager must operate. The only way the program manager can succeed is to have margins or reserves to facilitate tradeoffs and to solve problems as they inevitably arise. When cost and schedule margins are inadequate, risk becomes the only "margin" available. Multiple small increments of accumulated risk can result in an unacceptably high cumulative probability of mission failure. The DSB Task Force believed that the FIA program under contract in the fourth quarter of calendar year 2002 fit this scenario. FIA's space segment test program was deficient to the point that mission success would have been in jeopardy. There were instances in which industry did not implement proven engineering and management practices and did not communicate systemic program problems to the government acquisition leadership in a timely manner.

The DSB Task Force noted that "The space acquisition system is strongly biased to produce unrealistically low cost estimates throughout the process. During program formulation, advocacy tends to dominate and a strong motivation exists to minimize program cost estimates. Independent cost estimates and government program assessments have proven ineffective in countering this tendency. Proposals from competing contractors typically reflect the minimum program content and a "price to win." Analysis of recent space competitions found that the incumbent contractor loses more than 90 percent of the time. An incoming competitor is not "burdened" by the actual cost of an ongoing program, and thus can be far more optimistic. In many cases, program budgets are then reduced to match the winning proposal's unrealistically low estimate. The task force found that most programs at the time of contract initiation had a predictable cost growth of 50 to 100 percent. The unrealistically low projections of program cost and lack of provisions for management reserve seriously distort management decisions and program content, increase risks to mission success, and virtually guarantee program delays." The special management organization, the FIA Joint Management Office (JMO), provided an example of dilution of the authority of the program manager. The DSB Task Force recognized and supported the need to manage the FIA interface between the NRO and NIMA and the need in very special cases for senior management - the DCI in this instance - to have independent assessment of program status. The task force believed the intrusive involvement by the JMO in the FIA program as presented by the JMO to the task force conflicted with sound program management.

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