Spy Satellite Agency Head Resigns

Spy Satellite Agency Head Resigns

UPDATED: Management Failures May Have Played Role in Spy Sat Director’s Resignation

In the wake of Tuesday’s decision by President Barack Obama to approve a huge new classified spy satellite system, the director of the organization that would have overseen and then run the new satellites has resigned.

The director of the secretive National Reconnaissance Office, Scott Large, issued an email message to staff on Wednesday announcing his resignation, which is effective April 18.

“Yesterday, the President approved a plan for the NRO to develop our next generation EO (electro-optical) systems. This gives the NRO an opportunity to continue our long tradition of excellence and deliver unparalleled capabilities to the nation as we do today .… Today, in consultation with the DNI, we have concluded that a change in leadership here at the NRO is appropriate,” Large wrote.

Large has been tarred with the brush of the disastrous program known as the Future Imagery Architecture by some observers and that appears to have played a role in the decision that he leave. Boeing ran the program, which several experts have said was so complex as to be humanly impossible to build and operate. Senior officials at the Director of National Intelligence and National Reconnaissance Office virtually cringe when FIA is mentioned.

A former intelligence official familiar with the NRO ascribed Large’s resignation to management failures that doomed his tenure, irrespective of the FIA fiasco. “I think the real difficulties for Scott were his utter inability to manage and lead the NRO. Some time ago he kicked off a major reorganization, which quickly became a chaotic disorganization from which the NRO has been trying to recover for many, many months,” this source said in an email. “He had also lost control of planning and programing, direction of which moved steadily into ODNI hands. Finally, he was unsuccessful in getting the IC space world to play nicely with the DoD folks, despite his cordial relations with [the head of Air Force Space Command, Air Force Gen. Robert] Kehler.

However, a former senior Pentagon official defended Large’s performance, noting that “it takes a village” to build and screw up a highly complex spy satellite program.

“It seems like Scott Large is a casualty of all the recent bickering over the way forward. Scott’s a good man, and a talented professional. He received an inordinate amount of the blame for FIA, and was given a short leash by [former NRO Director] Don Kerr. We will never really know how Scott would have run the NRO, nor how he would have completed its much-needed transformation. He wasn’t given a fair shot,” the former official said. A former intelligence official agreed with this, positing that Blair and Gates simply want new leadership under a new administration.

Large, the former Pentagon official noted, was not running the NRO when most of the major decisions about the program — aside from killing it before it wasted even more than the $10 billion estimated to have been blown on FIA — and bore no more responsibility for its failures than any other senior NRO official.

But Blair and Gates must have concluded that they just could not afford to leave someone associated with FIA, as well as with the failure of the failed satellite US 193, which was shot down by the US Navy last year lest it tumble down in the atmosphere. Senior OSD and intelligence officials have been highly critical of the NRO in the last 18 months, pointing to a long string of problems at what was once one of America’s great national assets.

Several names have been floated for the new NRO director since the November elections but my intel on this is not fresh. I’ll update as soon as possible

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The Future Imaging Architectural System of Consolidated Optics (FIASCO) was the result of an overzealous lobbyist. Guess what Scott Large’s next executive high paying job will be. They are painting his name on his parking spot right now in Boeing’s parking lot.

“I think the real difficulties for Scott were his utter inability to manage and lead the NRO.”

oh SNAP.


Love to hear if you mean we hit the nail on the head or we missed it entirely. Not certain of this expression… oh snap… Your clueless editor

I’m just referring to the harshness of the statement!

As he should resign

Before retiring in 1997, I worked in the NRO programs two different times. My last set of tasks after working on the first deployment of the Cray computers at the ground station was the intital work on the Future Image Architecture. As part of that task we made several visits to the Boeing facilities. My conclsions after those visits were that this deal was prewired for Boeing simply because the Technical Directorate of CIA and I suspect NRO wanted an alternate source for the airborne package long sourced by Lockheed, and the Boeing facilities were in Jane Harmons district–she of the congrressional intel committee. Never mind that Boeing had never deployed such a satellite, never had experience with large optics stabilization and knew nothing about the requirements for ground based processing. There were also other aspects of the system proposal that depended on specific contributions from current and soon to be retired people from CIA.

This program was doomed from day one and should have never continued past the proposal stage. Unfortunately it became a typical government WPA (We Piddle Around) project

As far as NRO is concerned, I never really understood how they could perform their intended function. I worked with NSA, CIA, NRO, DIA on all sorts of programs including some black ops in the middle east in the 90s and never saw any significant cooperation between these agencies. Everyone had his own fiefdom that went all the way back to the 50s when most of these agencies were created.

We better get our intel act together and stop the infighting because the bad guys are getting
smarter and more sophisticated and small mistakes now turn out to be amplified far more than they were in the 60s,70s,80s, or 90s. By the way these same mistakes also get politisized and the prime example is the WMD issue that took us to IRAQ.

in at least a couple of instances I can recall, the fault was in someone sitting safely in Maryland or Virginia deciding that someone in the field couldn’t possibly know what they were talking about.…..

You have a right to your opinion, “former intelligence official familiar with the NRO”, but where I come from, anyone with integrity would take open credit for their commentary before flaying a man on an international stage. It’s easy to condemn a person in public and run skulking into a corner, but it takes courage and intelligence to state your name, speak your mind, and then provide facts to back up your commentary. Without the strength of fact and authority, your statements lack all credibility… And shame on you, Colin Clark, for printing such inflammatory statements without any credible source information. How can anyone take you seriously when you just throw out random opinions by people who are willing to throw daggers, but don’t have the courage, knowledge or integrity to back up their statements or take responsibility for their actions? The Director of the NRO was handed the fallout of a failed government acquisition experiment in the face of a changing political climate. In one year, he and his highly capable leadership instantiated a complete re-organization of a nearly fifty year old acquisition office (which, by the way, is the only government/military organization that currently has successful satellite acquisition programs) and in that short time has succeeded in putting the NRO in a position to respond to changing national requirements. In the process, over the past year the NRO has had multiple successes. Check your facts. The Director accomplished a great deal in his short tenure. The incoming director will have some very big shoes to fill.

Dear Space Princess,

I understand your outrage but if you are a space princess then you know how rarely people in the community are willing to be identified giving positive opinions, let alone critical ones about people they might work with. No one I’ve spoken with doubts Large’s technical and engineering skills. But more than a dozen sources have raised questions about his managerial skills ever since he was named to the position. All are people who either work in the NRO or work with it on a daily basis. V/R Colin

I take offense to your “former intelligence official’s” statement that suggested Mr. Large had a an “utter inability to manage and lead the NRO”. In fact he led the organization in more positive ways, in a very short tenure, than any other Director in recent history. He not only consolidated the organization in ways that would have been unimaginable just five years earlier but he did it under very difficult circumstances. His vision to transform and streamline the organization, of course ruffled some feathers, and possibly your former intelligence official, but what drastic management decision hasn’t. If it were not for his leadership the NRO would be dire straits similiar to DoDs AFSPC and its space acquisition arm, Space and Missile Command. It’s a fact, the NRO has had setbacks, ITS ROCKET SCIENCE, and I feel your venom for Boeing, but there are only three primes out there right now, so pick your poison. If you want to truly understand Mr. Large and his opinions you should re-read his recent speech to the National Space Symposium (http://​www​.nro​.mil/​P​r​e​s​s​R​e​l​e​a​s​e​s​/​s​p​a​c​e​-​s​y​m​p​o​s​i​u​m​.​pdf) or GEOINT 2008. There you will see the right vision, leadership and character that is lacking in government today.

If nothing else, this thread is showing that DODbuzz is getting some high-profile readership.

I know that just about everyone at work was watching the liveblog of Gates’s speech last Monday!

Oh, and “oh snap” is a contemporary slang term for “expression of amused dismay and/or appreciation regarding the extremely negative statment or situation which recently occurred!”

A few thoughts:
1. Leadership vs. Management; there is a difference.
2. Read his Bio; it wasn’t just FIA.
3. Recognize Kerr for his “contributions”.
4. A few others need to “resign”.
5. A required change — long over due.

Chantilly Chap,

I have absolutely no “venom” for Boeing. My comments are reflective of comments that senior DNI and NRO officials have made to me over the last four years. FIA, in the words of of one of the most senior IC officials, “crippled” the NRO and scarred the classified sat world so badly that they could not get approval for the way ahead on EO as of a year ago and had trouble getting anything new approved because policymakers were so skeptical of the NRO’s ability to start and executive large programs.

Pehaps the truth of everything has not come out…

How many time will FIA be used as a red herring to “explain” things?

Frankly, I’m surprised that it took this long for heads to roll over FIA. I am not joking when I say that people need to be in jail over that sorry affair. I’ll always argue against the notion of DoD-contractor collusion, and outright illegal influence applied on behalf of favored sons…but, quite frankly, I can’t see any other explanation in this case.

Only 2 facilities on earth can build this kind of satellite. One has done it successfully for decades, the other wasted $10B and go nowhere. Sole source it to Lockheed and be done with it. It will save much money in the long run.…

“Boeing’s initial design for the optical system that was the heart of one of the two new satellite systems was so elaborate that optical engineers working on the project said it could not be built,”

“The F.I.A. contract was technically flawed and unexecutable the day it was signed,” said Robert J. Hermann, who ran the National Reconnaissance Office from 1979 to 1981 and in 1996 led the panel that first recommended creation of a new satellite system. “Some top official should have thrown his badge on the table and screamed, ‘We can’t do this system at this price.’ No one did.”

“After spending $10 billion on FIA, including about $4 or $5 billion in cost overruns — the government finally had enough, taking the project away from Boeing, and giving it to Lockheed. In a final act of chuztpah, Boeing demanded $500 million in termination fees for ending the contract.”

Launch Director — you have no idea how far from the truth you are in your statements.

JF: Right back atcha.

Really? Those are not my statements, those are press reports — reports that were widely distributed. So, if that ain’t the “truth”, please enlighten us all.…

can’t, sorry.

But I note in alphabetical order:
Boeing — FIA

There are other programs like NG: JWST

No Prime is batting well these days. There are many similarities in the programs listed. I find it a shame how we no longer seem to have the ability to team up between Government and Industry partners.

Space is hard (rocket science) + we (Govt and Industry Base) oversell on what we deliver. This statement is true throughout time. A shame we don’t take the time to understand how we got into trouble. We just keep quoting the seniors — like they really know what happened…

One satellite isn’t going to change a thing!
Its the humans and denial of sin!Hence our economy is creating 50% of our enemies itself.

JF: Ah, no. SBIRS was, if anything, a victim of requirements creep. (In a way, it was a preview of what happened to VH-71 and LCS.)

We have plenty of ability to team up between government and industry. We’ve just decided that we can’t trust people to do their jobs properly, and so we need four layers of paperwork and two entirely different oversight teams to “monitor” things.

It is very seldom that problems with execution kill a program. It’s generally more a matter of cost increases–and those are pretty evenly split between unanticipated technical risk, and requirements growth. If the GAO wants to figure out why defense contracts cost so much, it should look for the guys who, e.g., decided that SBIRS ought to be able to spot and track multiple cruise missiles in addition to watching for ICBMs…


Wasn’t it a replacement to DSP? If so, the mission would be at least ICBM launch detection — but with the emerging nuclear threat from cruise missiles, I think it’s fair to say the DSP replacement had to detect those too? I thought that requirement was in place at the beginning of the program (?).

I think we all should have known a NEW satellite system is going to cost and take CONSIDERABLY more than the recurring cost and development timeline of the previous generation. When we all start believing we can do a new system as fast and about the same cost as a previous system, we set up false expectations. Later, perceptions (people do not know what they are doing, bad prime, etc) about the program set in because of cost growth and schedule slippage (I believe there is some truth to the perceptions, but maintain this was always the case for previous space programs as you could always find something wrong). I think if you looked at the original cost/schedule of SBIRS and compared it to the last generation buy of DSP, you’ll find this to be true…

DD is right on, and the VH-71 is a shining example. So is ACS, lest we forget. The SBIRS mission did more than creep, it was expanded markedly. Both the contractor and the customer stepped-up and took 50% of the blame, and moved on, albeit sometimes painfully, to execution. The SBIRS HEO payload, by all press accounts, is performing very, very well on orbit today.

All sides, contractors, Mr. Gates, the GAO admit the procurement process is broken. That is the true cause of these meltdowns. Contractors must over promise to win, and then are rarely allowed to build what they over promised — the customer adds new requirements before the ink is dry, and keeps right on adding them.

FIA is in a totally different category JF — it is highly, highly classified! There are no public hearings or press reports. While I think it was incredibly naive to think that Boeing could pull such a complex new system out of their hat, they sold themselves better than the incumbent Lockheed. Very few folks had oversight, and fewer still really knew the true complexities and engineering impossibilities of what Boeing promised until $10B and 7 yrs. was gone. Scott Large should have known, but did not.

Maybe other organizations operate differently, but we still adhere to OPSEC in the Army’s Munitions Command.

Sometimes I wonder if the people who like to talk really know any true information at all; or just wish they did.

I feel for our next generation (if there is one). Successful new systems aren’t particulary recognized as such untill long in service (AWACS “the system with no mission”. The “expensive” and over designed” F-15″. My hope for NRO is that John McCain doesn’t learn about it. His “indignation” of Boeing getting a $5.Bil sweetheart deal on Tankers has kept us from new tanker and incurred probably $50.bil more in cost to re-re–re-bid these 8 years.

I was on the FIA Requirements Definition team for a while at the beginning. The AFSPACE guys insisted on a series of Senior Warfighters Forums (SWARFS) that prevented us from locking the requirements. Boeing — Launch Director is right — was struggling designing the Hubble follow-on — which was also cancelled later. They low-balled the price, got the contract, failed to meet any major decision points for a lot of reasons. One of them was the Government (me and my guys) failed to keep the requirements locked and stable, so they crept way beyond the initial design Boeing and Lockheed bid on. So if Government is disappointed in FIA, I’d suggest we look in the mirror for at least a major co-conspirator.

If I were Scott, I’d be looking for ANY parking space at Lockheed. This, ladies and gentlement, is an Industrial Base issue. If we fail to build this next set of satellites, the USG will be out of the business for building and owning EO or EO-like satellites — we’ll be leasing them. Not sure if that is a bad thing or not. BTDT

Mr. Clark, Your ability to draw conclusions from “unnamed e-mail sources” doesn’t taint Mr. Large, it taints you and your ilk for BS “journalism”. Stay on a blog. You are certainly not ready for prime time.

continued from firstpost GPS was invented for the military now everyone has one. If we are going to spend billions on GIS defence projects than there is no reason not share the non sensitive results in a way that improves government service and stimulates economy. Just think how GPS stimulated the economy. The military needs to get beyond their “Stanford, Milgrim” group think that benefits only themselves they need to branch out and benefit the rest of society not only is ti a good idea– but might be a great sales pitch.

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