Supply Chain… Attacks, or Self-Inflicted Wounds?

tl;dr — supply chain issues (e.g supplier/subcontractor shortcomings, system interoperability, hiring (aka paying) qualified developers) is causing DoD to delay delivery of new space systems, including GPS ground systems and handheld stations, missile tracking LEO satellites, and more

This report highlights the myriad challenges that can cause technological products to have delivery dates pushed back repeatedly and even to the point that equipment not even delivered yet is already outdated. Anecdotally, this is a common occurrence in US military procurement (though I’m not expert so don’t hate me for saying that). As we discussed in class last week, there are all sorts of unique challenges faced by the development of space systems, like the complex systems within which they operate, interoperability and communication restraints, “build-it-once” headaches, and more.

When delays are occurring, there are a number of places that decision makers often look to move production along closer to delivery, and all of them pose cybersecurity related risks. If you relax quality design standards, you might miss a critical vulnerability or risk that makes it into production. If you seek outside sources of procurement to break that logjam, you risk acquiring materials from suppliers who don’t have the same physical integrity standards that are designed to protect from supply chain attacks. Failing to deploy the systems in time provides its own vulnerability as that system was presumably designed to perform a role and that task isn’t being executed as intended if the system is not operational.

I think space systems pose unique developmental and production challenges, as we discussed last week, since updating in production is incredibly difficult and risky — from both a technical and an operational perspective. I’m reminded of Hofstadter’s Law which posits that it always takes longer than you expect. One idea to solve this problem might be to modularize the process more so that systems don’t grow as complex as quickly, but that idea is certainly utopic, as the costs and hurdles required to launch space systems require that operators cram as much as they can into each deployment.