ION-JNC and the Nascent Paradigm

July 8, 2015  - By

In late June, I had the honor and privilege of attending and participating in the Institute of Navigation’s Joint Navigation Conference (ION-JNC) in Orlando, Fla. This year attendance was up by 20 percent. The entire event was FOUO (For Official Use Only) with a classified (SECRET) day on Thursday held at, as improbable as it seems, a joint military and Walt Disney location known as Shades of Green. It gives Mickey Mouse and the military a whole new meaning!

The classified day included a remarkable War Fighter Panel, which, full disclosure, I have had the honor along with my colleague Jim Doherty at IDA (Institute For Defense Analyses) of co-chairing for the last several years. It is always heart-warming and invariably enlightening to hear our warfighters discuss capabilities that GPS enables for them in times of peace and war. You could even say this was the theme of the conference: “The capabilities that GPS technology enables.”

You might assume an FOUO- and SECRET-level conference would be slim pickings for a journalist. If that is all that transpired, then you would be correct; however, all the conversations outside the official sessions, especially around the displays and exhibitors’ booths, make it more than worthwhile. Not to mention all the tidbits you pick up at breakfast, lunch, dinner and evening socials. One of the most common phrases I heard all week was, “Now don’t quote me on this, but…” or the one I like to hear, “OK, this is on the record” or “You are recording this, right?” Everyone has a message!

ION-JNC in Dayton, Ohio

For the next two years (2016-17) ION-JNC will be held in beautiful downtown Dayton, Ohio, at the Dayton Convention Center. Dayton is home to the famous Wright Brothers Cycle Shop and the Wright Flyer.

Take-off of the 1903 Wright Flyer, the world's first powered, sustained and controlled heavier-than-air flight on Dec. 17, 1903.

Take-off of the 1903 Wright Flyer, the world’s first powered, sustained and controlled heavier-than-air flight on Dec. 17, 1903.

Dayton also hosts the world-famous National Museum of the USAF (United States Air Force) located on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB). The classified day will be held at the prestigious USAF Institute of Technology (AFIT), also on WPAFB, where many an Air Force officer has earned a master’s and or Ph.D. The papers and sessions should be outstanding in view of the venue and the presence of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at WPAFB, which is known as the Air Force’s only organization wholly dedicated to leading the discovery, development and integration of warfighting technologies for air, space and cyberspace forces.

Register early and send your clearance if you have one; it just gets better every year.

SpaceX and Falcon 9

Elon Musk,CEO Space Exploration Technology Corp. (Photo Courtesy of Tesla Motors)

Elon Musk,CEO Space Exploration Technology Corp.
(Photo Courtesy of Tesla Motors)

I arrived in Orlando on Sunday, June 21 (yes, I traveled on Father’s Day) because events start bright and early Monday morning, to hear about the Falcon 9 launch failure, the first for that family of launchers. Even though it occurred 130+ seconds into the launch segment, if the rocket fails to deliver the payload or supplies to orbit or their destination, it is generally referred to as a launch failure. Technicians and subject-matter experts will be debating for some time exactly what caused the failure, but there can be no doubt this is a big blow to the Space Exploration Technology Corporation — better known as SpaceX.

I have known Elon Musk and experienced his outsize ego casually for more than 20 years, and I am constantly amazed at his accomplishments and would never bet against him. I do not mean the ego remark in a negative way, because history proves that if Elon says he will accomplish the seemingly impossible, then he will do just that. Can you say Tesla Motors? Setbacks just make him and his team more determined.

“It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.” — Dr. Robert Goddard

Gwynne Shotwell, COO Space Exploration Technology Corporation. (Photo Courtesy of SpaceX)

Gwynne Shotwell, COO Space Exploration Technology Corp. (Photo Courtesy of SpaceX)

However, launch setbacks are played out on a national stage where lives may well be at stake. SpaceX President and COO (Chief Operating Officer) Gwynne Shotwell, the brains of the outfit, who is as alluring as she is brilliant, said following the launch failure, “I’m sure we will find the cause rapidly and resume normal launch operations within a year.”

Reportedly, SpaceX is already a bit tardy in scheduled launches with an enviable backlog totaling approximately $7B, many of which are government payloads. In the end, this merely highlights that the launch business is a tough nut to crack, and attention to detail is paramount. Every little detail must be scrutinized numerous times.


In the mid 1990s, Dr. John Darrah and I (then AFSPC Chief Scientist and Deputy respectively) under the auspices of Air Force Space Command and the Institute For Defense Analyses (IDA) formed a high-level group of subject matter experts (SMEs) to review why the U.S. government, in the matter of a few months, put several billion dollars worth of space hardware into saltwater instead of the vacuum of space. The group was labeled the BAR, or Broad Area Review, and its task was to euphemistically “bar” this type of abnormal launch activity from ever happening again. I can honestly say the BAR has been wildly successful.

There have been five separate BARs to date, and there has not been a military or national security space launch failure since the BAR’s inception. There have begen more than 120 successful launches by Lockheed Martin, Boeing and the combined organization known as ULA or United Launch Alliance. I am not at liberty to reveal the findings of the various BARs, but obviously attention to detail is key to any successful endeavor.

SpaceX vaulted from an upstart small company with a few employees to a certified government space launch contractor with more than $7 billion in contracts and 3,000+ personnel on the payroll in only 13 years. SpaceX previously successfully launched two cargo resupply missions to the space station. To date, it is the only predominantly commercial space company to accomplish that task.

Therefore, I am sanguine without a doubt (now I sound like Elon) that SpaceX will quickly discover the malfunction that caused the launch failure and correct it immediately. This is not to say that anyone at SpaceX has been intentionally careless, but the successful space launch business today is by necessity an OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) culture of attention to detail where items are checked not once or twice but 20 times to make sure nothing has been overlooked or assumed. However, for SpaceX the critical task, for the success of the company and future astronauts’ lives, depends on SpaceX’s assurance there will be no more failures for any reason. The U.S. military has proven for the last 16 years — 16 years without a single national security space launch failure — that it is an achievable goal. Note: Currently SpaceX launches do not fall under the purview of the BAR, a situation easily rectified.

Assured Access to Space

General (USAF, Ret) Thomas S. Moorman Jr. (Photo Courtesy of the USAF)

General (USAF, Ret) Thomas S. Moorman Jr.
(Photo Courtesy of the USAF)

Lest we forget, behind all the technological arguments and/or failures is the crux of the matter, which is nothing less than assured access to space and all that capability enables, which of course includes GPS. In 2006, General (USAF Retired) Thomas S. Moorman Jr., former AFSPC commander and VCSAF, wrote in the highly esteemed AFSPC publication High Frontier regarding a Senior Leader’s Perspective on Assured Access to Space. He stated clearly that

“Assured access [to space] is a requirement for critical national security, homeland security and civil missions, and is defined as a sufficiently robust, responsive and resilient capability to allow continued space operations, consistent with risk management and affordability.”

In referring to his now famous and eponymous study, he stated that,

“The study found that most people wanted to describe assured access in terms of reliability. As the study team progressed in our analysis, it became apparent that often what people were describing was the need for resiliency rather than reliability. Reliability describes the dependability of a specific booster while resiliency considers the collective ability of all available launch systems to meet national security need.

“While our recent launch record…is indeed impressive, we should not rest on our laurels. Assured access is not a destination, but rather a journey. As a nation, we need to continue to adequately fund space launch operations and develop the next-generation technologies that will increase responsiveness, improve reliability, and reduce costs. Through these actions, we can ensure the nation will have continuous, uninterrupted access to space for decades to come.”

In that light it is possible — even probable — that SpaceX will help us strive, reach and continue with that vaunted goal; contrarily, you may remember a few months ago SpaceX sued the U.S. government because the government was not moving quickly enough for Space X with certifications and validations for SpaceX launch vehicles. The U.S. government knows first hand how difficult the space launch business can be, and it wanted to ensure that not only was SpaceX ready but that their family of vehicles were reliable. The government’s caution has unfortunately been validated, as this was the second SpaceX launch failure, although the first and hopefully the last in the Falcon 9 family of vehicles. All is not lost, and the future actually looks bright for SpaceX if it will just put egos aside, listen to the launch subject matter experts and pay attention to every little detail.

Competition may well be viewed as a “good thing” in the space launch business. However, it is always trumped by assured access to space, which is a critical national security requirement. Competition and national security needs must be balanced with the emphasis on what is gained by assured access to the high ground of space. Elon Musk, Gwynne Shotwell and the SpaceX team may well be capable of showing the rest of us “how it is done,” but first they must demonstrate unerring dependability, reliability and resiliency. I wish SpaceX the best of luck and every success.

Nascent Leadership Paradigm — People on the Move

For some unfathomable reason, at least intellectually, all the USAF Leadership Schools, or at least the majority, are located in Montgomery, Ala. Now personally I happen to like Montgomery and its laid-back southern charm. It was also once the capitol of the Confederacy, which is apropos nothing except it seems to be a hot topic or trigger word these days. Be that as it may, Montgomery and Air University are not exactly Oxford, Cambridge or Eton, and yet the university in its many incarnations has produced outstanding military leaders in its 95-year history. And yet in my numerous tenures at this prestigious institution, it has been made clear by the staff that this is an institution with bipolar tendencies.

On the one hand, it is made clear to every officer and student that the national military establishment thrives on rules and regulations, and those wishing to abuse or ignore them can readily and rapidly be replaced. Some instructors I encountered (not all certainly, and probably not the cream of the crop) would have you believe that individualism has its place — just not in the U.S. military. Then, in the next class or session, you hear stories about visionaries such as Claire Chennault, Jimmy Doolittle and William “Billy” Mitchell, who never colored within the lines. Not to disparage Air University, but I have always had a problem with this school tenet, as it tends to disregard personality, relationships and leadership. I often think of General Dwight Eisenhower’s comments concerning his rebellious, unorthodox and rule-breaking friend U.S. Army General George Patton. Eisenhower made numerous famous comments about Patton’s rebellious nature, his inability to follow orders and his swashbuckling uniforms that once paraded 24 general’s stars at one time on one non-standard uniform, and yet in official comments written after Patton’s untimely death Eisenhower wrote:

“He [Patton] was one of those men born to be a soldier, an ideal combat leader whose gallantry and dramatic personality inspired all he commanded to great deeds of valor. His presence gave me the certainty that the boldest plan would be even more daringly executed. It is no exaggeration to say that Patton’s name struck terror at the heart of the enemy.”

In other words personality, individualism, reputation and leadership do make a difference, and in times of war, leaders bearing those qualities are difficult if not impossible to replace. But in times of peace, those qualities still matter, and we should never take those leaders for granted. I mention this because in the past several months, several Air Force leaders considered key to the GPS program have either retired, been promoted or left government service for personal reasons.

USAF General Ellen Pawlikowski is only the third female four-star general in USAF history, and she recently left SMC (Space and Missile Systems Center) for a job at the Pentagon, where she worked space and GPS acquisition and policy issues. From there she was promoted to four stars and now sits as just the ninth commander of Air Force Materiel Command. Gen. Pawlikowski was replaced at SMC by Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves (USAF).

Brigadier General William Cooley (USAF) recently pinned on his first star while serving as the director of the GPS Directorate at SMC. He was recently selected for reassignment as program executive, Programs and Integration, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Missile Defense Agency (MDA), Redstone Arsenal, Alabama —an organization where Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves once served as the deputy commander. Can you say career broadening? Brig. Gen. “Wild Bill” Cooley is being replaced by USAF Colonel Steve Whitney, who has distinguished himself with yeoman service at the directorate as the GPS Military User Equipment (MUE) guru.

David W. Madden serves as a member of the Defense Intelligence Senior Executive Service and functions as the executive director, Space and Missile Systems Center, Air Force Space Command, Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif. He is the senior civilian executive and the deputy program executive officer for Space. His responsibilities include managing the research, design, development, acquisition and sustainment of satellites and the associated ground command and control systems and user terminals. In his military career, Dave served as the GPS Wing Commander at SMC. For personal and professional reasons, Dave has decided to leave government service soon, and my sources tell me he will take up a position in Denver, Colo. Unfortunately, I am not currently at liberty to say where. I have been told the name of Dave’s replacement, but it was in an FOUO session and therefore not currently releasable. Suffice it to say, the individual is eminently qualified.

Each of the individuals mentioned has a very strong personality and a certain way of doing business. I have known them all for years and can honestly say their personalities and personal leadership styles dominated their successful careers to date. Frankly, I don’t see that changing. So, when you hear that military personnel are interchangeable and personalities don’t matter, as I unfortunately heard a very senior official say publicly recently, please take that with a huge grain of salt and skepticism. People, personalities and leadership styles do matter, especially outside-the-box thinkers and leaders. Let’s wish everyone the best in their new endeavors.

Until next time, Happy Navigating, and remember: GPS is brought to you courtesy of the United States Air Force.

About the Author: Don Jewell

Don Jewell served 30 years in the United States Air Force, as an aviator and a space subject-matter expert. Don’s involvement with GPS and other critical space systems began with their inception, either as a test system evaluator or user. He served two command assignments at Schriever AFB, the home of GPS, and retired as Deputy Chief Scientist for Air Force Space Command. Don also served as a Politico Military Affairs Officer during the Reagan administration, working with 32 foreign embassies and serving as a Foreign Disclosure Officer making critical export control decisions concerning sophisticated military hardware and software. After retiring from the USAF, Don served seven years as the senior space marketer and subject-matter expert for two of the largest government contractors dealing in space software and hardware. Don currently serves on two independent GPS review teams he helped found, and on three independent assessment teams at the Institute for Defense Analyses, dealing with critical issues for the U.S. government. Don has served on numerous Air Force and Defense Scientific Advisory Boards. He writes and speaks extensively on technical issues concerning the U.S. government. Don earned his Bachelor’s degree and MBA; the Ph.D. is in progress.

2 Comments on "ION-JNC and the Nascent Paradigm"

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  1. Ross Bowie says:

    Good summary, BUT – Gwynne Shotwell is “as alluring as she is brilliant”. How about Elon – handsome?

  2. Don Jewell says:

    Maybe you missed the reference to ego.