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News | March 3, 2021

'Collective effort' drove 20 years of satellite support

By Luis Delgadillo, with contributions from DCMA Lockheed Martin Sunnyvale DCMA Western Region Public Affairs

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in DCMA’s 2021 INSIGHT Magazine, which highlights the agency’s warfighter-support story and its global acquisition professionals who use insight and expertise to enhance that story each day. The online version of the magazine can be found here.

As 2020 drew to a close, Defense Contract Management Agency’s Lockheed Martin Sunnyvale, California, contract management office marked the completion of over 20 years supporting the Advanced Extreme High Frequency Satellite program.

AEHF-6, the final satellite of the AEHF program, began its expected 14-year service life in November 2020.

To manage the service life, Space Force’s Space Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, California, will transfer control of the space vehicle to the newly formed Space Force Delta 8 and the 4th Space Operations Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado.

The work performed by the Lockheed Martin Sunnyvale team on the development, production, deployment and sustainment AEHF space vehicles helped bring into service the military’s most cutting-edge satellite communications constellation.

“We are proud of the professionalism and dedication the entire DCMA team has shown over the course of the past 20 years of AEHF contract administration,” said Rita Bruce, program integrator for the DCMA AEHF program support team here.

DCMA Lockheed Martin Sunnyvale is the lead office for AEHF, serving as the focal point for all DCMA efforts supporting the entire AEHF Program and providing the “one team, one voice” approach described in the agency’s vision to the USSF SMC.

Sunnyvale, along with DCMA Northrop Grumman El Segundo, California, and DCMA Lockheed Martin Denver, offered experience in areas ranging from contract management to manufacturing process oversight and from systems engineering to quality assurance.

“We’ve had a number of employees that have been with the program since the beginning, and countless others that have made contributions and moved on to other opportunities. Without the collective effort over the years, we would not have been able to provide the proper support to such a critical program,” said Bruce.

AEHF is preceded by Milstar, formerly known as the Military Strategic and Tactical Relay, the last of which entered operational service over 17 years ago. The joint AEHF and Milstar constellation provides secure, global and jam-resistant communications for military ground, sea and air assets. Each of the over $1 billion AEHF satellite delivers greater total data throughput than all Milstar satellites combined. This enables the Department of Defense, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Australia to control tactical and strategic forces through all levels of conflict and support the attainment of space superiority for the joint force commanders.

From Earth to Orbit
AEHF-6 began life in space on March 26, 2020, from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, from a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 551 rocket. This marked the first launch for Space Force as a new armed service in the United States military.

Though a proud moment for DCMA, the launch was bittersweet. DCMA employees who planned to attend in person were unable to do so due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the setback, the DCMA team was able to capitalize on a strong relationship already built with Space Force customers.

Well in advance of the launch, DCMA and the Space Force’s 45th Operations Group entered into a formal program support agreement.

This marked the first such agreement of teaming with a military command in the execution of Federal Acquisition Regulation 42, Contract Administration Services. The sharing of information throughout the transport, test, encapsulation, installation on to the rocket launch vehicle and launch of the satellite at John F. Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida.
“We are mutually dependent and mutually supportive of our mission partners, especially those at the 45th Operations Group and the 5th Space Launch Squadron,” said Kent Caldwell, director of DCMA Lockheed Martin Sunnyvale. Caldwell leads a DCMA team that delivers prime contract support to eight major DoD programs and NASA on 164 contracts valued over $74 billion.

Beginning with shipment of AEHF-6 from the Sunnyvale facility, the DCMA team communicated with the 5th SLS to ensure on-time delivery of the product. Once the satellite arrived in Florida, both organizations supported in-person final system tests and encapsulation into the launch vehicle. The day of the launch, the 5th SLS shared their own virtual viewing with the DCMA AEHF team.

Even with AEHF’s end of production and entrance into full operational capability, DCMA continues in sustainment operations and software support for the next decade under the $3.3 billion Combined Orbital Operations, Logistics and Resiliency contract, joining a multi-contract management office team of professionals led by DCMA Lockheed Martin Denver.

“The mission of continued United States operational superiority in space never ends, as the Space and Missile Systems Center has already begun plans for AEHF’s successor, the Evolved Strategic Satellite Communications Program,” said Bruce. “ESS will significantly increase the number of users and services, augmenting the AEHF strategic mission and providing enhanced resiliency features required for nuclear command, control, and communications survivability.”

DCMA Lockheed Martin Sunnyvale, from Milstar in the past, to AEHF in the present, and to ESS in the future, continues to ensure timely delivery of quality products and provides relevant acquisition insight, from paper to product.