On June 8, 2016, the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security’s Emerging Defense Challenges Initiative (EDC) hosted its fifteenth address in its Captains of Industry (CoI) series. The CoI series aims to provide a forum for senior executives in the aerospace and defense industry to address the various public interests their companies serve and the public policies that affect their markets. This event featured Richard Ambrose, Vice President of Space Systems at Lockheed Martin. Steven Grundman, Lund Fellow for EDC, provided brief introductory remarks before Mr. Ambrose’s talk.
Ambrose opened with broad statements about space’s role as a key driver of several economies, including the GPS, communications, and remote sensing fields. He then highlighted the significant amount of change the space industry is experiencing, singling out anemic defense budgets and increased competition. Nonetheless, Ambrose noted that the space industry is one of the fastest growing, experiencing 10% growth between 2013 and 2014 . In light of this substantial change, Ambrose focused his lecture on how industry—and the government, although to a lesser extent—can grapple with and thrive in an environment characterized by perhaps paradigm shifting change.
To deal with developments in the space industry, Ambrose recommended three general guidelines: (i) confronting the status quo directly, (ii) embracing change, and (iii) dreaming big. Ambrose said that the need for technical and business innovation was high, and that a premium should be placed on reducing costs and standardizing certain interphases throughout the industry. Additionally, he suggested that the space industry move towards high volume production and away from its traditional, trade-like model. To facilitate the change, Ambrose indicated that 3-D printing investments might be useful. In order to embrace change, Ambrose suggested that certain basic operations be reshaped and that more processes be moved to digital domains. Relatedly, he suggested that US actors work to develop global partnerships and to share civilian signals. Last, and perhaps most importantly, Ambrose suggested that leaders must establish idealistic goals, anchored by realistic milestones for achieving those grand objectives.
Ambrose concluded his talk by speculating about the future of the space sector, noting that he believes satellite printing might become a reality at some point over the next decade. The event then transitioned into a conversation between Grundman and Ambrose, which covered Ambrose’s thoughts on the film The Martian (he found it entertaining, although not realistic at times) as well as his opinion that the next White House administration must internalize the reality that space no longer is the domain of a few powerful nations; grappling with this state of the world, he indicated, requires a regulatory regime that reflects these facts.