Reserved Perceptions in Military Space operations

The Military/Contractor swinger
The Military/Contractor swinger

The United States Air Force (USAF) space operations corps. has a problem.  I know, there are several (put your hands down!), but I will be talking about a specific one, one which is insidious.  One which military personnel and contractors are somewhat blurring the ethical line.

First, let’s talk about the concepts of impartiality and perception of bias.  “HOLD ON!!” I’m sure you’re thinking, “THIS ISN’T SPACE.”  I understand your confusion and hope to clear it all up with the following paragraphs.  And then you’ll see it very much involves not only space, but space operators and possibly future space systems.

But first, a few words about impartiality.  Impartiality is pretty easy.  It’s a description of a state of not being influenced, as humanly as possible, by the circumstances a person is in or has to observe.  A federal judge, for example, could be viewed as somewhat impartial.

But here’s an example related to space:  when I was an instructor and evaluator of future space operators, we observed certain rules to make sure our students were fairly judged as qualified to operate nuclear weapons systems.  But one rule in particular was followed without exception:  an instructor could not evaluate his/her own students during an evaluation.  Other instructors would evaluate the students’ proficiency, because, other instructors could conduct the evaluation with a somewhat even-handed eye.  And this system was set up not because the students’ instructor was dishonest or untrustworthy.

It was set up to avoid a perception the students’ instructor might be a little more forgiving, a little more lenient to their own students during the evaluation.  Which describes the perception of bias.  If a person has a vested interest in the success of something being judged, that person may look the other way as problems with that something arise.

A similar scenario, but bigger, is going on between the USAF and the contracting world.  Please understand the situation I will be describing probably isn’t intentional or malicious–it’s just the way it is.  But it might be contributing to some of the problems both parties are facing as they slowly acquire space systems.  Surely it’s something the Government Accountability Office (GAO) should consider when they look at these programs.

As you might imagine, space systems can be very specialized in the military.  There’s GPS, there’s DMSP, DSP, SBIRS, etc., etc.  So, what does a contracting company, such as Boeing or Lockheed Martin, do when they want to win a government contract?  They obtain the subject matter experts, the operators, the ones who know these systems.  They get these people to work for them, so the company can tell the government “Yes, we have the expertise.  We have ** many years of GPS experience.”  It’s a natural response, right?  And it would only be natural for the company to specifically ask for experienced GPS personnel whenever they are hiring.

Here’s an example of a hiring listing for a Military Program Analyst II (SBIRS):

Military Program Analyst II (SBIRS)
Bachelor’s Degree in related field. Master’s highly desired.
Minimum of 15 years work related experience or 8 years specifically related in space operations
Standardization/evaluation and training program experience relevant to space operations required
Experience with Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) required
Minimum of an active Top Secret/SCI clearance required
Air Force background in the following fields: OPIR systems operations, Standardization and Evaluation, training, DT&E and OT&E
Excellent interpersonal, oral and written communications skills
Proficient with MS Office Suite
Recent AFSPC assignment within the 460th Space Wing standardization/evaluation and training offices
1C6 or 13S AFSC
Military active duty background in DSP, SBIRS or related operational unit
Combatant Command (COCOM) experience related to MW/MD
Prior AETC assignment with space operations instructor qualifications
Legacy DSP and SBIRS certified operator experience
Operational testing and/or transition background relative to OPIR mission

Seems innocent enough.  Keep in mind the contracting company listing this position isn’t making up all of these qualifications.  They are hiring based on the criteria the customer has asked for (and probably defined).

So, this is fine.  But notice the company’s listing also asks for “Recent” assignments and “Military active duty background in DSP, SBIRS, or related operational unit?”  Such descriptions may prompt some companies to start looking really closely at the Air Force reservists.  The ethical line starts getting a little blurry when reserve personnel start getting involved (and no, not because they are of shady character).  I’ve worked with reserve personnel who worked in a reserve unit, like the 8th Space Warning Squadron (SWS).  I’ve noticed that once they are done with their “military tour”, they then put on their contractor “hat” and work on SBIRS HEO or GEO programs.  Why’s this a problem?

For one thing, it LOOKS like these reservists/contractors have a vested interest in the success of the company they’re working for with systems they’ll eventually work with as reservists (perception of bias).    We’ll explain more of this next week.

4 thoughts on “Reserved Perceptions in Military Space operations

  1. So this is why I don’t work for venders. Your 100% correct this is a concern and I’m not sure how you get around it with traditional reservists. They have to have day jobs and the reserves is where they get their marketable skills from. There is no way around the “Halo” effect impacting both jobs.


    1. There is a cause and effect. Part of it are the requirements of the customer driving the contractors to get best qualified person. So, who’s more qualified than a currently crew-qualified reservist, right? I’ll definitely be getting a bit more into this in the next few weeks.



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