More SBIRS, AEHF satellites still a possibility, Lockheed Martin says

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WASHINGTON — A  Lockheed Martin Space Systems executive said the Air Force might need to order two more protected communications and two more missile-warning satellites as it transitions to next-generation architectures for both programs.

Mark Valerio, vice president of enterprise solutions and integration for Lockheed Martin Space Systems, said March 15 that the Air Force should consider ordering the additional  satellites to avoid having too many major satellite programs in development concurrently.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver has built four of the six Advanced Extremely High Frequency protected communications satellites currently under contract and launched two of the six Space Based Infrared System missile-warning satellites the Air Force has on order.

Building a seventh and eighth satellite for each constellation is “still a possibility,” Valerio said. “If you’re going to come back and start a new program you have to define the requirements, that takes a pretty long time, a few years at least, then you have to go out for competition, and then you gotta go build it and develop it.

“You’ve got to be careful that when you come out of this development stage you have the right technical ability, the right workforce, the right supply chain, all of them, to go do that all at once. That’s one of the big concerns I have is how do they transition to where they want to go and the timing.“

The Air Force’s  2014 budget request included plans to order a seventh and eighth AEHF satellite in 2018. But subsequent budget requests, including the 2017 request sent to Congress in February, made no mention of ordering the additional AEHF satellites.

Instead, the Defense Department has been studying  next-generation versions of both AEHF and SBIRS.  Those satellites would begin launching in the mid-2020s. In both instances, the Pentagon is considering whether to break apart the strategic mission and tactical missions and place them on separate satellites or keep them together on the same satellite as is current practice.

“The real key will be how do they transition,” Valerio said. “How do you transition from where you are today to where you want to be in the 2030 timeframe? “

Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s acquisition chief, said in February the Air Force is wrapping up long-running studies on SBIRS and AEHF. Both programs are nearing the end of production and the Air Force will need new satellites on orbit in the mid-2020s. At the same time, the Defense Department is at the early stages of determining what comes next for its narrowband and wideband communications satellites as well as beginning work on new weather satellites.

The SBIRS program, with a current program cost of $19.2 billion, includes two satellites and two hosted sensors already on orbit and four other satellites that would launch between 2017 and 2021, according to the Government Accountability Office. The GAO said in an April 2015 report that a new missile-warning constellation will be needed by 2025.

AEHF is a $14.6 billion program with three satellites on orbit and a fourth expected to launch next year. Two more satellites are in production.

As a result, Valerio said Lockheed Martin would continue to reduce the cost and schedule of satellites still in production in both programs.

“From a stability and affordability standpoint, it certainly makes sense to keep driving the cost out of these,” he said.