Home >> November 2011 Edition >> Command Center: Jim Armor
Command Center: Jim Armor
V.P., ATK Spacecraft Systems & Services

ArmorHead Jim Armor is Vice President, Strategy and Business Development for ATK Spacecraft Systems & Services, Beltsville, Maryland. He is responsible for producing and executing the market strategy for the small satellite, satellite thermal systems, and engineering services business lanes. Major General Armor retired from the U.S. Air Force in January of 2008, where his last position was as director of the National Security Space Office (NSSO) in the Office of the Under Secretary of the Air Force, Washington, D.C. He was responsible for coordinating all defense and intelligence space activities. Prior to the NSSO, he was Director, Signals Intelligence Systems Acquisition and Operations at the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), Vice Commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, and Program Director of the NAVSTAR Global Positioning System (GPS) at Los Angeles Air Force Base, California. He earlier served as a combat crew missile launch officer, a laser signal intelligence analyst, and a satellite launch system integrator. In addition, he was selected and qualified as a DoD Space Shuttle payload specialist, and was first to study information warfare while a research fellow at the National War College.

Jim Armor is also an associate fellow of AIAA and is on the Board of Advisors of the Secure World Foundation, a not for profit advocacy and think tank for sustainable space. He has been a member of several National Research Council Studies including the NASA Technology Roadmap Review; Rationale & Goals for U.S. Civil Space Program; and AF Scientific, Technical, Engineering and Math (STEM) Workforce Needs; and a reader for Defending Planet Earth: Near-Earth Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies. ATK is an aerospace, defense and commercial products company with operations in 24 states, Puerto Rico and internationally with revenues of approximately $4.8 billion.

ArmorFig1 MilsatMagazine (MSM)
Mr. Armor, having served as the director of the National Security Space Office (NSSO), and as a retired Major General in the U.S. Air Force, how did you accomplish the difficult task of moving from the military side of space activities into the commercial world? Was the transition somewhat of a challenge?

Jim Armor
Yes, it was and still is challenging. Having worked in government acquisition I was very familiar with the industry and procurement processes, and intellectually I understood the issues from the industry’s point of view. But living the industry role is different from watching it. The pace is relentless, more like combat than the measured pace of acquisition milestone reviews. Making sure you’ve squeezed the best possible value into your system design — cost, schedule, performance — is a 24-7 job, because you know several other capable companies are doing exactly the same thing.

AVL_ad_MSM1111.jpg I’ve found the competition to be invigorating. But then, on the next program, you may be partners with the same firm you were competing with the last time — fascinating.

Protecting information is also different. We all, as a matter of course, protect classified information and we’re all affected by cyber hacking. However, the added layers of protection for intellectual property and proprietary information is a new skill set for me.

How did you select ATK as your new home once you had left the Air Force?

Jim Armor
I first, and foremost, wanted to stay in the space business. After I left the Air Force I did a couple of years of independent consulting and got a very good feel for the business trends and the options available in the space industry.

I selected ATK Spacecraft Systems & Services because they were doing what I thought were the right and important things for the future of space: Small satellites in novel roles and missions. The culture at ATK is creative and innovative, open to new systems and approaches.

ArmorFig2 In addition to the small innovative satellite business, the larger ATK enterprise does the full range of space activities, from components, to launch, to engineering services for all agencies, manned and unmanned. I felt this was an ideal environment to contribute and grow.

Oh, yeah. I really liked the people here, too!

The military world is rather different than the commercial world... how have you assisted ATK in gaining the ears and attention of those in the government who are responsible for program development and product acquisition with so many firms clamoring for their voice to be heard?

Jim Armor
ATK already had a decent relationship with the government, especially NASA and some of the national security organizations both for disciplined engineering services, and satellite bus integration.

I joined ATK due to the Company’s agile and innovative small satellite business in which I wanted to participate and felt I could make a contribution. I’d like to think many of my government associates noted my decision and perhaps paid a bit more attention to ATK, but you’d have to ask them about that.

ArmorFig3 ATK also has robust supplier relationships with major satellite manufacturers such as Space Systems/Loral, Boeing and Lockheed. Internal make-buy decisions by our industry customers in many ways are even more competitive than sales to the government. This was new to me — industry to industry relationships on subsystems and components — and I have learned a great deal that I should have known when I was in the government.

I’m discovering that, above some minimum level of communication, it is delivering system performance that counts for future business. That’s as it should be.

Please explain to our readers what your duties as the vice President of Strategy and Business Development are at ATK Spacecraft Systems and Services. What projects are you responsible for leading?

Jim Armor
Two aspects. On strategy, I’m responsible for laying out our firm’s roadmap for growth in the space business. This includes which markets to pursue — civil, national security, commercial and international — how much and in which technologies to invest our IRAD funds, as well as any mergers and acquisitions. This requires a great deal of research as well as active participation in global space industry activities to knowledgeably strategize about what it all means and where it is going.

Business development is basically engaging in conversations with our industry and government customers. What are their needs? What are the options and risks for addressing all or part of those needs? What capabilities are available in industry? What technologies can be developed? It’s a back and forth discussion between the state of the need and the art of the possible. Once a customer has decided what she wants, then business development means we put together our best value proposal, and compete.
Fortunately, I love talking about space, so this is a great job for me. I hope my boss agrees.

ArmorFig4 MSM
Given the breadth of our industry and all of its ancillary components, what areas are of most concern to you regarding the space and satellite enterprises? How can these areas of concern be overcome, in
your estimation?

Jim Armor
My biggest concern is the U.S. space industry’s dependence on the government. There are several interrelated issues:
One, if the U.S. stops funding truly advanced technology and limits development of exquisite programs, such as manned and flagship space exploration programs and next generation reconnaissance systems, other nations will begin to catch up and pass the U.S. in space. It’s not just funding — agencies are having difficulties finding and retaining qualified professionals even to do advanced space systems development. I can’t even imagine the geo-political and global military consequences of the U.S. not having preeminence in space.

Two, the current U.S. space organizations are geared to building and operating satellites, but the space industry is mature and can build and operate without much oversight in many classes of standard satellites. In those cases, industry doesn’t need detailed government regulations and oversight, which drives huge inefficiencies in cost and schedule. The government needs to transition its processes and organization towards purchasing space services, not satellites, for many standard functions. Imagery and communications are good examples. There are many other opportunities like navigation, space weather, space situational awareness, climate monitoring.

ArmorFig5 Three, current U.S. trade regulations, like ITAR, have devastated the U.S. space industry over the last decade. There are good signs that this is changing, but we can’t relent — these rules must be changed and the U.S. government must change to a culture of active support for space systems exports. Otherwise, the U.S. space industry will be swamped by global innovation and competition.

The shrinking U.S. budget is aggravating all these issues.

The globalization of satellite launch capabilities is an obvious fact. How does ATK work with off-shore companies to ensure the Company has a role to play in the worldwide rocket engine, launch vehicle, and satellite markets? What challenges must be overcome?

Jim Armor
In my domain of satellite systems and components, it is very difficult to export due to both specific U.S. trade limitations on satellite systems and components (ITAR), and import barriers from other nations that have, or are developing, their own space manufacturing capabilities. That said, we are beginning to actively engage in global opportunities. This administration has made some significant strides in relieving the trade restrictions, and has very actively supported some ATK space exports. It’s still an uphill battle, but for the first time in both my Air Force and industry career, I have developed some optimism. I know U.S. industry can compete globally — if unleashed.

ArmorFig6 Many new developing countries recognize the importance of space and are trying to purchase capabilities and well as develop their technologies. There are opportunities for sales as well as building global industry strategic relationships that will be profitable for everyone.

You have served in a number of positions in the U.S. Air Force, including that of a combat crew launch missile officer. The need for our industry to do all in its power to ensure the success and safety of our warfighters in opposing those that would harm our nation is crucial... how does ATK support such efforts?

Jim Armor
ATK supports some national security space programs, but the most visible and recent example is ORS-1 which directly supports the warfighter. It is tasked by CENTCOM to provide the “boots on the ground” in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other operations with the fast overhead imagery they need. We also provided the satellite bus for TACSAT-3 which is providing hyperspectral imagery to the military today. We are, of course, quite proud of our participation in developing these capabilities and hope we can provide additional advanced elements in days to come.

I would also point out that commercial space systems are finding larger roles in military operations, such as for communications links that are used by UAVs actively in operational roles. ATK provides significant portions of the structure and components, like thermal control systems, propulsion, fuel tanks, solar arrays, and other mechanisms in most commercial and military COMSATS.

Walton_ad_MSM1111.jpg MSM
One area of concern for most space and SATCOM firms is that of trained personnel to fill the critical roles within their programs... there is now a realization that there is an ever-increasing dearth of candidates with the necessary skill sets to fill these positions. How can our industries become involved in helping today’s students become more aware and amenable to STEM training in middle and high schools and at the college level? Does ATK support of have interest in any current STEM programs, or are there plans to do such?

Jim Armor
This is an enormous problem. I’ve been a member of major studies on STEM, including one by the National Research Council of the National Academies focused on STEM professionals in the Air Force, and I have also spoken at conferences on this crucial issue.

There’s no silver bullet, and the current economic situation and manufacturing climate in the U.S. is not helping. The aerospace industry, I think, has begun to gain momentum nationally by leveraging the major professional organizations, like AIAA, for STEM outreach programs at all levels of education, as well as by lobbying for increased levels of RDT&E funds across all the government agencies that will attract young engineers into new projects.

ATK is trying to hire technically trained personnel but it is extremely difficult; we’re finding ourselves competing for a dishearteningly small pool of experienced aerospace engineers.

ATK has a relationship with next-door University of Maryland for facilities and research, and some student study projects and employment.

An additional concern is the safety of citizens and the health of our military and commercial satellites due to the hazards of near-Earth objects and “space junk”. How do you see mitigation of this growing threat to military and commercial spatial resources being handled? Is ATK working with other agencies to offer assistance with such strategies?

Jim Armor
The first step is to properly characterize the debris problem. I know Space Command, the Consolidated Space Operations Center (CSPOC), is making strides in space situational awareness, but far more is needed with both space and ground-based sensors, and just as importantly, analysis of the data on the ground. The commercial satellite industry has established the Space Data Association (SDA) which shares orbital data among the commercial operators and with the CSPOC, and has processes for “conjunction analysis” to avoid collisions. There are many proposed techniques for mitigating the buildup of space debris. Like many innovators in industry, ATK has offered some debris mitigation systems for consideration to the government, including a system that “sweeps” small debris — less than 1cm — out of heavily trafficked orbits. However, in the first instance, it’s probably most important to have policies that limit debris in the first place. ATK complies with international debris limitation standards in all systems we build.

ArmorFig7 MSM
Looking forward over the next year or two, what can we expect to see from ATK? And what are your opinions as to trends to watch for in this industry?

Jim Armor
Three trends I’m watching. One is the commoditization of the small satellites. There are more and more firms capable of building small, utility satellite buses and missions. More and more countries are investing in developing domestic capabilities. Furthermore, technology advances are enabling more compact sensors and other payloads, further shrinking the size of the bus needed. All of these technologies are brought into play to limit the cost to orbit, as the launch itself remains the significant cost factor. You can see this in wider initiatives on hosted payloads and ride-sharing as well. Staying ahead of this commoditization requires a continuous flow of innovation and cost control while maintaining quality. ATK is successfully competing with successes such as ORS-1 and TACSAT-3, but the competition is inexorable.

Second is satellite servicing, an exciting new area which is maturing in both government and commercial environments. ATK has a strong legacy in satellite servicing, having provided award-winning support and astronaut tools for all the Hubble Space Telescope repair missions and tools for the International Space Station (ISS). We are currently supporting the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) on the ISS. ATK has, by investing in robotics technologies and related ground simulation and test capabilities, positioned itself to support U.S. government on-orbit servicing programs, but has initiated a line of commercial vehicles for satellite servicing as well. Simple life extension service is now reaching a price point that is attractive to commercial COMSAT operators who are doing cost trades for replacement satellites. We, with our partner U.S. Space LLC, are very confident that our ViviSat Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) satellites will be providing life extension services to GEO belt operators by 2015.

ComtechEF_ad_MSM1111.jpg The third trend is the way the U.S. Government acquires space capabilities. Except for the very high end, exquisite satellites, they are slowly but surely looking at commercial fee-for-service approaches, rather than building and operating space systems themselves. This is a difficult transition for them as existing space organizations — the Air Force, NRO, and NASA — are specifically organized to develop and operate space systems. It’s now the users of space data, such as NGA, NOAA, DISA, and combatant commands, that must learn how to purchase space services, something relatively new to them. Transition to commercial business practices for imagery and satellite communications, is leading the way for other missions. In example, ATK is offering a commercial fee for service options to NGA for radar imagery and to NOAA for solar weather data.

Lastly, Mr. Armor, as you look over your career both in the military and commercial world, what are two of the projects that bring a true sense of satisfaction to you...?

Jim Armor
As the GPS Director, I was able to help in the migration of the system from a critical military system to a global utility. Helping evolve the military’s growing dependence on GPS with new user equipment and a robust new signal structure was fundamentally important; but helping address the policy and performance needs of the huge variety of global communities that had growing reliance on GPS — precision farming, scientists’ use for time transfer, cell phones location for 911 calls, money transfer in banking and commerce, power grids, and many, many more — was exhilarating.

Later, as the Director of Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) at the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) directly after the 911 attack, I was able to collaborate with the rest of the intelligence community and the military deployed in theater to contribute directly to combat operations in tremendously innovative ways. I couldn’t have been more proud of the people and missions I had the honor to lead.

Now, here at ATK, helping to break into new space markets — responsive small satellites, and on-orbit satellite servicing — in extremely competitive global markets is exciting and bracing in a completely different way than my military roles. I’m very much enjoying learning how to succeed in industry.