WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force would delay the purchase of two next-generation missile warning satellites, scale back operations of ground-based space surveillance and missile warning radars, and spend less to operate an aging satellite communications network as part of its plan to cope with the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration.

In a PowerPoint presentation prepared for members of Congress, Air Force leaders said these and other moves, including deferring aircraft purchases and furloughing hundreds of thousands of civilian workers, would immediately save at least $12.4 billion. But the service stressed the changes would have a cost in “drastic” and “long-lasting impacts.”

Some of the largest space-related savings would come from delaying the purchase of the fifth and sixth satellites in the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) for missile warning, the presentation shows. Congress last summer authorized the Air Force to spend $3.9 billion to purchase those satellites, called GEO-5 and GEO-6, and prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., has already begun ordering their components.

The Air Force plan also called for:

  • Spending 75 percent fewer dollars to maintain the Defense Satellite Communications System, a constellation of legacy satellites serving military forces. Air Force leaders noted the reduction would hurt military communications worldwide.


  • Reducing the operating hours of ground-based radar sites for missile warning and space surveillance to eight hours a day. Currently those sites are staffed around the clock. The proposed change would hamper missile defense efforts, the Air Force said.


  • A potential furlough of 180,000 civilian employees for 22 days. Air Force leaders called this an unprecedented move, one that would mean a 20 percent cut in biweekly pay for thousands of employees.

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, said in a press release he is worried about the cost sequestration will have for taxpayers.

“The draft proposal from the Air Force outlining sequestration cuts is highly troubling news,” Turner said. “Sequestration will affect mission readiness and our deployed personnel around the globe. Civilian furloughs will delay systems testing — ultimately increasing end costs to the taxpayer and the amount of time it takes to deliver equipment to our warfighters.”

Sequestration is scheduled to take effect March 1 barring an agreement between Congress and the White House on a plan to bring the ballooning U.S. deficit under control. The Pentagon would absorb an across-the-board spending cut of more than $500 billion over the next decade if sequestration is not averted.

Mike Gruss is a senior staff writer for SpaceNews. He joined the publication in January 2013 to cover military space. Previously, he worked as a reporter and columnist for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. and The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind. He...